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Pettitte throws a change-up

People who watched Andy Pettitte pitch in Rochester last weekend said he wasn't ready to face Major League hitters. Of course, you could say that about a lot of Yankee pitchers these days. So ready or not, Pettitte will get the start against the Mariners on Sunday.

It will be the first big-league start in 573 days for Pettitte, the latest pro athlete to have second thoughts about retirement. Hey, maybe the umpires can give the old guy a break. Every ball he throws can also be a strike. Every hit he allows can be registered as an out.

Why not? It's clear that Pettitte, who turns 40 in June, wants it both ways. He quit to spend more time with his family, then changed his mind. He admitted using human growth hormone early in his career to help recover from injury. But he stopped because he was better than those other users. He knew it was wrong.

Pettitte is a religious man, you see, an honest fellow. That's why he told federal investigators in 2008 that his friend and former teammate, Roger Clemens, had confided in him about using performance-enhancing drugs years earlier.

Last week, on the witness stand at Clemens' perjury trial, Pettitte confirmed those statements to prosecutors. But when cross-examined by the defense, he backed off, saying there was a "50-50" chance he had misunderstood Clemens when they spoke in 1999 or 2000.

You can imagine what that will do for the prosecution. Pettitte was a crucial witness in the case against Clemens, who is accused of lying to Congress about his steroid use in '08. The hotshot lawyers aren't driving big cars because witnesses swear on the Bible that they're half-sure of the facts. Even the judge said Pettitte seemed conflicted on the stand.

Of course, Clemens said Pettitte "misremembers" when Pettitte gave his deposition in '08. The "misremember" line made for a good laugh. Now Pettitte is essentially saying the same thing, that he might have remembered wrong.

At the time, Pettitte said he would have to live with himself, and answer to God, for informing on Clemens. Now he comes across as an insincere phony, no better than Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds or any of the other liars and cheats from the steroid era.

It's all about plausible denial with that group, isn't it? Pettitte tried to put himself on a higher moral plane by admitting he had used HGH twice and providing information about Clemens. But at the critical moment, he caved. He jumped back in with the fraternity and covered for his old friend.

Now the prosecution has to rely on the testimony of Brian McNamee, the former strength coach who claims to have injected Clemens with steroids. Their case is falling apart. This is the second time around on the Clemens trial, remember, and you have to wonder if it's a big waste of taxpayers' money.

Baseball fans have put the steroid era behind them. They want to move on. Pettitte wants to be seen as one of the good guys. But he's one of the faces of the sport's sordid past, whether he likes it or not. How can we believe anything he says at this point? His only answer when asked why he came back was that he believes he can do anything.

I suspect Pettitte returned for a last push at the Hall of Fame. He has a 240-138 career record. There are several pitchers with more wins who aren't in the Hall. Pettitte has 19 postseason wins, the most ever. But he had the luxury of playing for some great Yankee teams. His 3.88 career ERA is higher than any pitcher in the Hall.

Maybe Pettitte pitches the way he did in 2010, when he went 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA. The Yankees are desperate for a boost to their staff, which has been ravaged by injuries and inept performance.

The odds of Pettitte making a big difference at this point in his career aren't good. Less than 50-50, I'd say.