^By RONALD BLUM=
^AP Sports Writer=
NEW YORK (AP) _ Andy Pettitte had a look of disgust.
His pitches either kept missing the plate or sailed right over the middle.
“It’s a struggle. The issue is everything again,” he said after the New York Yankees lost to the Oakland Athletics 5-4 Sunday. “Everything you want to try and do as a starting pitcher, I’m not able to do right now. I have no command of my fastball. I wasn’t able to hit them with my offspeed stuff when I wanted to.”
Pitching on five days’ rest, Pettitte walked four for the first time since July 2010, went to seven three-ball counts and threw just 57 of 100 pitches for strikes. He allowed four runs _ three earned _ and four hits in five innings and left trailing 4-1.
Against Houston on Monday, he gave up seven runs and 10 hits in 4 1-3 innings, his briefest start not cut short by injury since October 2010.
“I’m not going to judge someone on two starts,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “If it goes on for a month, then obviously there’s some concern. But I think every pitcher in the big leagues has probably had two starts that weren’t so good, and that’s not what you’re used to seeing from a particular pitcher. If he was 26 or 32 we wouldn’t even ask the question.”
But Pettitte is a month shy of his 41st birthday and the no-decision left him 0-2 in his last three starts after he opened 3-0. His ERA is 4.06.
“My release point is floating around a little bit,” he said. “You just feel coming off my fingers it’s not coming off right. So I’m going to keep working and hopefully get it back my next start. It’s frustrating and it’s been a long, long time since I had a feel for my pitches.”
Ever positive, Girardi had said Sunday morning that Pettitte’s outing against the Astros was an aberration.
“I will be completely shocked if it’s not there today,” he said. “I mean, that would floor me.”
But instead of finding his groove, Pettitte grooved his pitches.
Oakland got a run on a throwing error by second baseman Robinson Cano in the third, and Cano tied the score with an RBI single in the bottom half. Luke Montz homered leading off the fourth _ his first home run since 2008 _ and Yoenis Cespedes hit a two-run homer in the fifth for a 4-1 lead.
Preston Claiborne followed Pettitte and retired six straight batters in his major league debut. His family was on hand, and the 25-year-old right-hander got a game ball and lineup card as souvenirs.
“Obviously this is a big game for me, the biggest one so far in my life,” he said. “It’s a huge step for me and obviously a big confidence booster.”
But it seems the Yankees can’t play a day without an injury this year. Eduardo Nunez, the starting shortstop while Derek Jeter has been on the DL, left after four innings because of tightness in his left ribcage. An MRI was negative.
“He just came to me in the fourth inning and said that he had a little irritation,” Girardi said. “You don’t want to make that a six-week injury if it can only be a couple days.”
New York tied the score in the sixth, when Dan Straily allowed Cano’s leadoff single and a one-out walk to Travis Hafner. A’s manager Bob Melvin brought in left-hander Jerry Blevins to face Ichiro Suzuki, 6 for 16 off him coming in, and Suzuki reached out to hook an RBI double to right. Jayson Nix struck out, and Lyle Overbay fouled off three two-strike pitches and singled softly to center, driving in two runs.
Josh Donaldson broke the 4-all tie when he homered into the left-field second deck in the eighth off Boone Logan (2-2).
Sean Doolittle (2-0) pitched a perfect seventh, and Ryan Cook got out of a two-on, one-out jam in the eighth by striking out Nix and retiring Overbay on a flyout to deep center.
Grant Balfour allowed a two-out single in the ninth to Brett Gardner, then threw a wild pitch. Oakland manager Bob Melvin called for an intentional walk to Cano, bringing up Vernon Wells.
While Wells was 6 for 12 off Balfour with two homers and two doubles, Balfour struck him out for his fifth save and 23rd in a row dating to May 5 last year.
Missing five regular starters who are on the disabled list, lost for just the third time on its 10-game homestand.
“You get a long homestand and you have to take advantage of it, and I thought we did a good job,” Girardi said.
NOTES: Once Nunez left, Nix moved from 3B to SS and newly acquired Chris Nelson took over at third. … Girardi may switch Curtis Granderson to LF when he comes off the disabled list and leave Gardner in CF. Asked whether Granderson would remain in center, Girardi responded: “We might toy around with some other things.” … RHP David Robertson, who missed the series because of soreness in the area where the left knee meets the hamstring, hopes to be available for Tuesday’s series opener at Colorado.