Pavano pleased with debut
With a bounce in his step, he's pitching without restrictions
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The first pitch sequence of Carl Pavano's return to the Yankees had just been ended, and already the training staff was jogging onto the field.
For those who have watched and waited over the past 1 1/2 years while the oft-injured right-hander has struggled to maintain his health and return to the Major Leagues, Sunday's scenario seemed quite unsettling.
Maybe this is where things begin to turn around for the 31-year-old right-hander.
For starters, the player being checked out was not Pavano -- it was left fielder Jose Tabata, who attempted a diving catch and was not injured. Manager Joe Torre called Pavano's two-inning appearance against the Phillies at Bright House Networks Field "Step 1," and every big event has to begin somewhere.
"Sometimes, you're out there just trying to survive instead of trying to win the battle," Pavano said. "I've definitely dealt with both those emotions. It's not always going to be perfect, it's not always going to be in your favor. But what I've dealt with in the past, hopefully, I can keep that behind me."
Pavano has not appeared in a Major League game since June 27, 2005, missing all of last season with numerous ailments.
The laundry list of Pavano's injuries reads like a preschooler's book on anatomy: shoulder, back, buttocks, elbow and ribs. Sunday presented an opportunity to put the medical report behind him for at least one afternoon, as he allowed one run and two hits in a 33-pitch (16 for strikes) effort against Philadelphia.
"I just wanted to go out there and pitch and have fun again," Pavano said.
Pavano said that his consistency in the strike zone could have been better, but all things considered, he was pleased. His fastball had good downward plane, catcher Wil Nieves said, and Pavano's slider was darting around the zone.
"He looked great," Nieves said. "He looked like he's been pitching for a while. I liked what I saw, and I know he's going to get better. I'm going to keep praying for him to stay healthy all year."
Though Pavano fell behind in the count early and issued two walks, he induced the always-dangerous Ryan Howard to ground out, ending the first inning. The run Pavano allowed in the second inning came on an Aaron Rowand fielder's choice, which Pavano remarked was the double-play ball he coveted, just too slowly hit.
"I thought I fell into a good groove," Pavano said. "My consistency can only get better."
Pavano attempted to downplay the importance of his Spring Training, even though he admitted earlier in the week to being "excited" for the upcoming appearance.
His left foot, bruised by an Alberto Gonzalez line drive during batting practice drills, has healed and showed no ill effects Sunday.
But even Pavano was surprised by how good he felt in the start. He pulled pitching coach Ron Guidry aside and spoke about a little extra bounce in his step for this effort; later, Pavano admitted to feeling some additional adrenaline coursing through his body as he threw his first pitch -- a called strike to Jimmy Rollins.
"I didn't know it until I woke up, but I was definitely antsy and anxious," Pavano said. "I thought that was all positive. I was just excited get out there, get the season started and make those first couple of pitches. I definitely had some extra energy."
He also had a few items to continue working on. Nieves needed to remind Pavano to keep his shoulder closed and maintain his mechanics, and Pavano said he had to remain conscious of holding the ball and slowing the game down.
It was a long way from Game 4 of the 2003 World Series. Even so, Torre said he had no doubts that Pavano could return to the form that prompted the Yankees to issue him a four-year, $39.95 million contract after the 2004 season.
"He's a young man and he's healthy," Torre said. "But again, he hasn't competed in a couple of years. It's still going to take him a little time to get that feeling."
Two innings of Grapefruit League work don't exactly cement Pavano's place on the Opening Day roster, but they indicate progress.
Now, Pavano can at least turn the clock ahead to his next start. He fits into a regular five-man rotation, the words "bullpen session" no longer hold a negative connotation, and that's good enough.
"He's one of the guys, and I think that's the most important thing," Torre said. "He's here, and he's not getting any sort of special treatment or program. You hand him the ball with no restrictions."
It's been a while since the Yankees could state that about Pavano. They can only hope they'll never have to question it again.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.