Pettitte a Comeback nominee

Cast your Comeback vote for Pettitte

HOUSTON -- When Spring Training began, Andy Pettitte firmly stated he would not fully believe he was past his elbow issues until it was late October and he had logged a full season of good pitching for his Houston Astros club.

It's not yet October, and it's anyone's guess what the next six weeks will bring. But nearly five months into the season, Pettitte has to be considered a top candidate for a Comeback Player of the Year award. After all, a year ago, his season ended with a disappointing thud in the form of major elbow surgery, and this season, he could very well finish in the top five in Cy Young voting.

Is Pettitte the top Comeback candidate? It's up to you. This year, fans will choose the 2005 MLB Comeback Player of the Year Award Presented by Viagra, via an online ballot.

Visit MLB.com/ComebackAward and cast your vote for the player who has best bounced back from a disappointing 2004 season. Your vote will automatically enter you into a sweepstakes for a chance to win great prizes -- like game-used bases from the All-Star Game or the honor of throwing the ceremonial first pitch at a 2005 World Series game -- from MLB and Viagra.

The season following major surgery is always the most difficult for a pitcher. Expectations are lowered, under the assumption that he will have his highs and lows as he works to become the pitcher he was before the operation.

But Pettitte has enjoyed a relatively smooth transition. He skipped a start in late May when he felt a twinge in his forearm, and the extra rest appeared to be the best medicine. He exited his final outing just before the All-Star break when he felt a bit of discomfort in his elbow, and he's coasted through the second half of the season with few issues.

Pettitte peaked in July, stringing together five wins in six starts and posting a microscopic 0.90 ERA. He allowed four earned runs over 40 innings to win National League Pitcher of the Month honors.

And he's considered the main reason why the Astros are still able to contend for the National League Wild Card despite losing so much of their offensive power from one year ago. Last year, the Astros had Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens and a bunch of unprovens filling out the rotation.

Without Pettitte this year, it's safe to assume the Astros' fragile Wild Card hopes would be completely non-existent.

"When you have three big starters, you have a chance," manager Phil Garner said. "You have a chance to win 60 percent of your games. Having him healthy in a short series makes it even more important."

"He's really the basis behind what we've been able to achieve," general manager Tim Purpura said. "The stability he's given our starting rotation, almost from the beginning, has given us a chance.

"He's been so stable, Roger's been stable, Roy, too. There's a foundation we can build on. Have we always supported them run-wise? No. But go start by start by start, it's a pretty incredible run they've had. (Pettitte), in particular, always seems to give you a good outing. When he comes out of a game, you either have a lead or are in a position to win."

Pettitte is disappointed that the Astros haven't won more games that he started, but at the same time he's grateful that he's giving the team the effort he was unable to provide last year, when he went on the DL three times before shutting it down completely in August.

"I signed here with so much anticipation, coming home and signing a three-year-deal," he said. "So much was made of it. All the hype, all the excitement, with Roger deciding to come over here. The disappointment of getting hurt the first start of the season, I can't even describe it."

When his season ended with surgery last year, he felt so guilty he offered apologies to several people, including owner Drayton McLane.

"That wasn't necessary, but it was a very nice thing to do," Purpura said. "It shows the amount of pride he has for what he does for a living, and he wants to do well."

Added Garner: "You'd say to him, don't apologize for being hurt. We know you want to pitch, we know you want to do everything you can."

This year, Pettitte is more than carrying his weight, and the Astros are reaping the rewards. Should they make the playoffs, it will be largely because of Pettitte's presence.

"That's what you hope to be able to accomplish as a starting pitcher -- you want the team to feel good when you take the mound," he said. "I do feel like that here. I do feel like we're going to play a good game whenever I take the mound. That's important, to get that kind of feeling."

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.