PHOENIX -- One year ago at this time, Andy Pettitte was two starts away from giving into the inevitable: surgery to repair a badly torn tendon in his left elbow, a procedure that ultimately ended a disappointing, injury-riddled first season with the Astros.
What a difference a year makes.
If the last month is any sort of precursor to what Pettitte may have in store for the stretch run, the Astros, assuming Roger Clemens and Roy Oswalt continue their own Cy Young-caliber seasons, have to like their chances to win the National League Wild Card.
Pettitte was a perfect 5-0 over six starts in July with a 0.90 ERA, allowing four earned runs over 40 innings. His performance earned him NL Pitcher of the Month honors, and it's a safe assumption that the symbolism of this accomplishment far outweighs the nifty specially-designed trophy he'll receive from the Commissioner's Office.
"It just feels good to be pitching and good that I'm going to be out there every fifth day," he said. "Last year was such a horrible and depressing year for me. I'm so used to taking the mound every fifth day and I pride myself on that. It's just nice to be back doing what I feel like I'm supposed to be doing for this team."
Pettitte's 9-7 record is not at all indicative of what he has accomplished this season. Of his 21 starts, 18 have been considered "quality" outings -- three or fewer runs over six or more innings. His last loss was June 14 in Baltimore, when he yielded six runs over 7 2/3 innings. Since then, he is 6-0 over eight starts with a 0.80 ERA.
As much success as he's had in his career, Pettitte feels he may be a better pitcher now than he was in the first 10 years. He credits a newfound changeup as a major reason for his recent fortunes.
The changeup was never one of his stronger pitches as he made his way up the ladder through the Yankees system, and he progressively leaned on his other pitches to the point that the changeup was a non-factor.
But Pettitte brought the changeup back from time-to-time last year when he was looking for any method at all that would help him pitch through the pain. This year, he kept with it and now it appears to be a strength of his repertoire.
"With the problems I had last year, I had to throw one and I've kind of kept it and it's stayed with me now," he said. "Now the velocity's coming back a little bit, the cutter's still there, and now I've added a changeup. I think that's been a big key for me, big time."
And the way it's all been working lately, it looks to be a big key for Houston in the stretch run.
Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.