Andy Pettitte went with his heart and headed back to the hill.
A year after the star left-hander said he didn’t have the desire to keep pitching, Pettitte ended his brief retirement and announced Friday he was returning to the New York Yankees.
Three months shy of his 40th birthday, Pettitte signed a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training. If his comeback is successful and he’s added to the major league roster, he would get a $2.5 million, one-year contract.
“My desire to work is back,” Pettitte said on a conference call. “The commitment level wasn’t there last year. I don’t know if it was because I had a year off, just my desire to work was back. This is where I’m at right now.”
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said there are no incentives in the deal and that Pettitte — who is expected in camp Tuesday — will only be a starter. Pettitte has pitched in the majors for 16 seasons, 13 with the Yankees.
Cashman believes Pettitte will not be ready to break camp with the team when spring training ends early next month. Pettitte says it’s possible he could be ready for game action in two or three weeks in Florida.
“We’ll go this route and see where it takes us,” Cashman said. “Does it make us better and give us deeper and stronger choices? Yes.”
Pettitte said his move back to the mound had the full support of his family.
“They weren’t crazy about me retiring,” Pettitte said. “I never would have done this if, especially my wife didn’t feel good about it. My family is behind this 100 percent.”
At his retirement announcement in February 2011, Pettitte said he felt like is heart was not fully, completely sold out on pitching and that he didn’t have the hunger or the drive needed.
“I think I told you all that, when people asked me if I would ever come back, I said I’d probably be too embarrassed to come back because I’m retired,” Pettitte said. “That’s really where I’ve been over the last three or four days, I am embarrassed I’m coming back. But then I’m like, what can I do? Things have changed. I sure don’t want to look back 10 years from now and say man, I wish I would have done that.”
Pettitte last played in 2010, when he went 11-3 and was an All-Star. He is 240-138 lifetime with the Yankees and Houston, and has long been a postseason ace.
Pettitte sat out last season, but was with the Yankees in camp this spring as an instructor. He threw batting practice several times, and also had a private bullpen session for team officials, including Cashman, manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild last Tuesday.
“I don’t think that I could do this unless I thought for sure mentally I could get back to where I was,” Pettitte said. “I believe, if I feel mentally right, that I’m going to win.”
Pettitte first expressed interest in pitching again last December. After New York added pitchers Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda in January, Pettitte shut down his throwing program briefly, only to resume it a few days later.
“Here we are,” Girardi said. “He truly loves the game, and he loves the Yankees.”
Cashman said he offered Pettitte a deal in the $10-12 million range in December.
“The reason I couldn’t commit to the Yankees earlier was because I needed to go through (the workout) process,” Pettitte said. “During my bullpen work right now, I feel it all coming back. I’m ready for that challenge.”
For many years, Pettitte was among the Yankees’ most dependable pitchers. He is 19-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 42 career postseason starts.
“It’s exciting to have him back,” Yankees opening day starter CC Sabathia said. “He’s a great teammate. When you can pitch the way he can, it’s hard to stay away.”
New York catcher Russell Martin was enthused about Pettitte’s return.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said.
The rival Boston Red Sox were interested in seeing him, too — and wary of his motion.
“He’s pretty good. Is he going to be a starter? Or is he just going to come in and pick people off?” Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said.
“I don’t think he’s coming back the way he was. But he’s a borderline Hall of Famer. When you add somebody like that to your staff, you’re doing good,” he said.
Boston designated hitter David Ortiz has faced Pettitte a lot over the years.
“The Yankees gave him a chance to come back and perform because they think he can come back and perform, but he’s not 25 anymore. Know what I’m saying? So the Yankees also know they’re running the risk of him coming back and not performing well. So they know we are up to all those challenges,” Ortiz said.
“If he comes back and doesn’t perform well, you guys are just going to say, ‘Well, he’s not 25 anymore. He took a year off.’ He’s what, 39? All that goes against him. If he comes back and performs well, ‘The guy is a natural,'” he said.
New York currently has four starters, besides Pettitte, looking to fill three rotation spots behind Sabathia and Kuroda.
“It’s one of those things, I feel there’s nothing but upside here,” Cashman said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.