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Originally published Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 4:36 PM

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Pettitte throws in bullpen, says arm feels great

Andy Pettitte pulled his cap down low, peered into the catcher and delivered each pitch with the intensity of a postseason game.

AP Sports Writer

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TAMPA, Fla. —

Andy Pettitte pulled his cap down low, peered into the catcher and delivered each pitch with the intensity of a postseason game.

Clearly, this was no ordinary bullpen session.

Pettitte arrived at camp on Tuesday, took a physical and pulled on the familiar navy pinstripes. The lefty felt right at home with the New York Yankees.

"It's weird to say it. I feel like I never left," Pettitte said. "I don't know how to explain it."

Pettitte ended his brief retirement last Friday, signing a minor league contract that would pay him $2.5 million if he's added to the major league roster. He is three months shy of his 40th birthday, but he feels fine physically and hopes to help the Yankees win their 28th World Series championship.

Pettitte threw 50 pitches to catcher Russell Martin and was so encouraged that he joked he might be ready in three weeks, even though the target date for his return to the Bronx is May 1. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild and others want Pettitte to ease his way back after not pitching for 17 months.

"I really feel like I'm progressing. I really felt good about it," Pettitte said. "I told Larry: `You're going to have to make me take it slow.'"

Martin was quite impressed with Pettitte's performance.

"That's as good a bullpen as I've caught all spring," Martin said. "As far as executing pitches, that's as good as I've seen. He kept executing pitch after pitch after pitch."

Martin said what stood out was Pettitte's command and "how serious he is every pitch. It's like a game out there."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi wants to see more.

"I don't get too caught up in it," Girardi said of Pettitte's mound session. "You have to wait until guys get going. We'll have to decide how many bullpens we feel he needs before throwing BP. The big thing is getting his body in shape."

It's possible Pettitte will pitch in an exhibition game before the Yankees head north. The plan is for him to stay in extended spring training and then join New York's rotation perhaps by May.

"I am a little surprised I felt as good as I did today," Pettitte said.

Pettitte was with the Yankees in camp this spring as an instructor. He threw batting practice several times, and continued throwing when he went home. He told Yankees general manager Brian Cashman the day he showed up on the first day of spring training that he was interested in coming back, and was thinking he'd be back in uniform sooner than this.

"I thought they would sign me within a couple days," Pettitte said. "Obviously, it took a little while."

Cashman said he offered Pettitte a deal in the $10-12 million range in December. Pettitte wasn't ready to make the commitment then because he wasn't certain he could do it.

"The money they were talking about, that makes you have the confidence you can do it," Pettitte said. "Mentally, I didn't think I could do it to the capacity I wanted."

There was never a doubt that Pettitte would only come back to New York.

"Me and my wife talked about it and there was no considering going anywhere else," he said. "Obviously, I could've gotten more money if I went somewhere else. This is where my heart was, man. I had no desire to go anywhere else."

Even though he interrupted his career in New York to play for his hometown Houston Astros from 2004-06, Pettitte will always be considered a true Yankee. He's one of the "Core Four" along with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada. The quartet helped the Yankees win World Series titles in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009. In both 1998 and 2009, Pettitte won the World Series finale.

Pettitte is 240-138 with a 3.88 ERA in 16 major league seasons. He has excelled in the postseason, setting a major league record for wins by going 19-10 with a 3.83 ERA.

In 13 seasons with the Yankees, Pettitte was a three-time All-Star, earning the honor in 1996, 2001 and 2010. He was a 20-game winner in 1996 and 2003, twice going 21-8. Pettitte has 203 wins for the Yankees, trailing only Whitey Ford (236) and Red Ruffing (231). He is second to Ford in strikeouts (1,823) and starts (396).

Pettitte was 11-3 with a 3.28 ERA in his last season, but was plagued by injuries. He feels he benefited from the time off.

"When I retired, those last games I pitched in the postseason, my groin and my lower back were hurt," he said. "Those are the things I would be concerned about, if there was a concern. I've had 16 months for those to heal."

Pettitte is one of five starters looking to fill three rotation spots behind CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda. He put a lot of thought into this decision and promises no regrets.

"It's a great opportunity. It's a great challenge," Pettitte said. "No matter what happens, I prayed about the decision with my family and my kids for a long time and we feel it's the right thing to do."

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