Yanks expect Pettitte to start spring behind in prep due to distractions

Andy Pettitte no longer has to go to Washington, and instead, he is scheduled to report to the Yankees' training camp in Tampa, Fla., on Thursday. But staff members expect that Pettitte will be behind in his preparation for the 2008 season, because of the off-field issues that have dominated his offseason.

The Yankees won't get a first-hand read of just how far Pettitte will be behind until they see him throw later this week, but the status of the team's No. 2 starter is a major concern within the organization.

Pettitte briefly considered retirement before agreeing to re-sign with the Yankees in the first week of December, and his return may have been pivotal in the Yankees' decision to withdraw an offer of Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera and others for Minnesota's
Johan Santana. On Dec. 13, however, the Mitchell report was released, and Pettitte was among those named within its pages. Within 72 hours, Pettitte issued a statement and publicly acknowledged his own past use of performance-enhancing drugs.

But because of his past relationships with Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee, Pettitte has effectively been drawn into the vortex of a bitter dispute between the 7-time Cy Young Award and trainer. In addition, Pettitte's son Josh was injured in a football game last fall. These circumstances have apparently set back Pettitte's usual preparation for spring training.

In past years, Pettitte has worked out during the offseason -- sometimes with Clemens and McNamee -- before starting his throwing regimen in early January. The Yankees' staffers don't know exactly where Pettitte is in his training, but they will operate under the assumption that he will be behind Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, Hughes and their other starters.

Yankees staffers have been concerned since the release of the Mitchell report about the potential impact on the 35-year-old Pettitte, who has been a close friend of Clemens in the past, and may be in a position to badly damage the seven-time Cy Young Award winner with his testimony.

There are still multiple imperfect alternatives for the Yankees to pursue if they are alarmed by Pettitte's condition once he arrives in camp. Kyle Lohse and Livan Hernandez are among many free agents available, and the Yankees also could target Oakland right-hander Joe Blanton, the best pitcher currently available on the trade market.

None of the options are as attractive as a healthy, prepared and focused Pettitte, however: The left-hander pitched well for the Yankees last season, going 15-9 with a 4.05 ERA, and is 201-113 in his career. And it may be that the distractions for Pettitte will continue for months to come, if the Justice Department pursues a perjury charge after Wednesday's hearing, and if Clemens and/or McNamee pursue civil suits.

Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.