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Pettitte's return to form now a Yankee necessity

It's impossible to stick with the Yankees as the favorite in the AL East. Not with this kind of tattered pitching rotation. In the wake of the stunning news that Michael Pineda won't pitch this year because he needs shoulder surgery, the Rays are best suited to take charge while the Yankees wait fretfully for 39-year-old Andy Pettitte to get himself back into pitching shape.

Yankees starters entered the weekend 29th in the big leagues with a 5.95 earned-run average. Hiroki Kuroda leads the way at 4.38, Ivan Nova is at 5.18, CC Sabathia is at 5.27, Phil Hughes is at 7.88 and Freddy Garcia is at 9.75. Nova and Sabathia have combined to go 5-0 but how long can that last?

Looks like a tough offseason for General Manager Brian Cashman. He didn't keep Bartolo Colon, who has a 2.62 ERA in Oakland, and dealt top prospect Jesus Montero for Pineda, who won't pitch in the Bronx anytime before April, 2013. And no one knows if Pineda will ever approach the kind of zip he showed in the first half of last season in Seattle.

"Right now, our hopes and dreams for this player are in jeopardy," Cashman admitted Friday to ESPNNY.com. "Hopefully, someday, our fans will get to see what we expected to see from him for many years to come. This is a massive decision gone wrong right now. So all scrutiny is fair."

The Yankees say their medical staff did all of its due diligence on Pineda, who came to spring training pushing 280 pounds and had diminished velocity. The weight did not necessarily impact the shoulder injury. As for the Mariners, it's hard to find anyone who seriously thinks they willingly traded damaged goods.

No one would ever make a trade with GM Jack Zduriencik again and it seems to be a case of either the M's not knowing Pineda was hurt and Pineda not letting on, either late last season in Seattle or during the spring with the Yankees.

"The focus should be on me and the New York Yankees, not the Seattle Mariners," Cashman said. "I'm responsible. I'm the decision-maker."

As for Pettitte, he worked five-plus innings and threw 81 pitches for Double-A Trenton Wednesday in a 10-4 loss to Erie. He gave up three earned runs on seven hits, walked one and struck out three. He's not close to being New York-ready.

"I wasn't happy with my command," Pettitte told MLB.com. "I made a few more mistakes than I had in my other starts. The weather was obviously different than it was in Florida, which is something I have to get used to, as well.

"A couple of those kids got some good swings against me. I know I'm not there yet."

With Pineda out and Garcia and Hughes both struggling, Pettitte is now more than a nice insurance policy. He's a downright necessity.

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Mets making good

This corner has been a heavy critic of the Mets and their potential to stay in Buffalo but let's make an entry into the Credit Where Credit Is Due Department: The Amazins have good prospects here, signed some quality minor-league free agents and keep filling the Buffalo roster even in the face of injuries to Jason Bay, Mike Pelfrey and Andres Torres.

Manager Terry Collins said Friday in Denver Bisons pitching prospects Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia are not going to be fast-tracked, even in the face of Pelfrey's looming Tommy John surgery.

"They're going to spend, I'm sure, the majority of the year in Triple-A," Collins said. " I've spent too many years in Triple-A with good pitchers to know that numbers aren't always the true indicator of whether they can pitch here."

And while finances have limited the Mets' free-agent forays, maybe that's not such a bad thing. They beat the Marlins Thursday with a lineup of totally homegrown players, a first for the franchise since 1971.

The only player without Buffalo time on his resume was David Wright. The others all were here since 2010: Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Ruben Tejada, Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, Ike Davis, Josh Thole, Jordany Valdespin and Jon Niese. That's pretty awesome, the kind of stuff we saw plenty of in the later years of the Cleveland affiliation.

I've also griped the Mets haven't done enough rehab assignments here in the past but Andres Torres spent the weekend and pitcher Chris Young is likely coming in May. Another plus.

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Anti-WAR statement

I'm not a big Sabermetrics guy. I was very anti-King Felix for Cy in a year when he went 13-12 and many of you crushed me for that. So be it. But at a time when the game is being overrun by acronyms like UZR, WORP, TPR, here's one in my corner: This week's Sports Illustrated Power Rankings have the Royals -- the pathetic, 0-10-at-home Royals -- No. 7 because their WAR Winning Percentage trends to a lot of wins.

Give me a break. This is a team that wrapped up a 12-game losing streak last week -- its sixth of 10 games or more since 2005. A team that is 0-10 at home -- something no one has done since the 1913 New York Highlanders. A team that will go 0-for-April at home because its next home game isn't until Thursday against, of all teams, the Yankees. A team that entered the weekend 6-14.

Don't quote me the 6-4 record on the road either. The Royals haven't been in the postseason in 27 years. Until they can win games on the field and not a stat sheet, those kind of rankings aren't worth the paper they're printed on.

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It's WNYer's pitch

Hamburg resident Dave Balbierz, a Frontier High product who was a seventh-round pick of the Tigers in 1974 out of then-Hilbert Junior College, threw a ceremonial first pitch last Sunday at PNC Park in Pittsburgh before the Pirates-Cardinals game.

Balbierz, 56, was drafted by the Tigers three spots before Mark Fidrych and played with "The Bird" for Class A Bristol (Va.) in 1974. Balbierz was signed by legendary Tigers scout and Buffalo Baseball Hall of Famer Cy Williams of South Buffalo, but shoulder trouble KO'd his pro career before he embarked on a long-time career in local amateur ranks.

Balbierz is a vice president with Waste Management and his company sponsored an Earth Day cap promotion at the ballpark last week. He spends plenty of time in Pittsburgh and is a frequent visitor to picturesque PNC.

"It was a little nerve-wracking," Balbierz joked of throwing a strike in his brief trip to the big-league mound. "It's just one of the nicest ballparks I've been to. It's Camden Yards, a throwback park with all the amenities. It's right downtown, intimate. The venue is wonderful. You really feel part of the game."

Repeating what I've said here several times: You can get there in less than four hours. Get in the car and go.

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Around the horn

*Angels outfielder Torii Hunter took a veiled shot at manager Mike Scioscia following Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Rays after the struggling Halos didn't bunt to advance runners early in the game. Said Hunter in the Los Angeles Times: "We have to fight a little harder. I don't think we believe we're trying that hard. We're just going through the motions. We have to do what we're capable of doing. That's everybody; not just the players."

*Speaking of the Pirates, an otherwise non-descript April doubleheader between the Bucs and Rockies became an historical footnote Wednesday when both teams took advantage of new rules in the collective bargaining agreement to call up a 26th player from the minors.

The Pirates called up reliever Jared Hughes from Indianapolis and the Rockies took reliever Zach Putnam from Colorado Springs.

*One of the true gifts from subscribing to the Extra Innings package: Staying up late to listen to Vin Scully call Dodgers games. A voice still completely smooth at age 84.

*Tweet from Giants closer Brian Wilson (@BrianWilson38) after his Tommy John surgery last week: "Surgery was perfect. Borrowed ligament from my ol' pal Sasquatch. Only side effects: hairy arm and I talk like a wookie.

email: mharrington@buffnews.com