MINNEAPOLIS — Carl Pavano is the resident wily veteran of the Minnesota Twins’ rotation, but he can relate to the issues the team’s younger pitchers went through in 2011.
While the Twins struggled as a team during a 99-loss season, many of the team’s starting pitchers also had down years. Nick Blackburn, Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano all suffered injuries that kept them out for extended periods. Even when healthy, the pitchers were unimpressive on the mound.
Pavano has been in their shoes during his 13 seasons in the big leagues. He suffered injuries while pitching for the New York Yankees and, as a result, was the target of angst from Yankees fans and media. He’s bounced around to five different teams during his career, although he’s perhaps finally found a place he can call home in Minnesota.
Now, the role of leader and mentor is one the 36-year-old Pavano has fully embraced as he enters his fourth season with the Twins.
“I don’t forget about being their age,” said Pavano. “I don’t forget about the adversity and the adjustments that I need to make to be successful. They’re going through those same things right now that I went through. Any time that I could help them, relate to them and try to cut that learning curve I think is a good benefit for them, the younger guys. …
“A lot of times, guys have to learn on their own. Sometimes you’ve got to take some steps backwards to go forward.”
Like the rest of his Twins teammates, Pavano was not happy with his individual performance in 2011. The right-hander finished with a 9-13 record and 4.30 ERA. The 13 losses matched the most of his career. He also allowed a league-high 262 hits.
But what Pavano did do was stay healthy. Though it seemed as if a new Twins player was placed on the disabled list every day, Pavano matched a career high with 33 starts and set a career high with 222 innings pitched.
“I haven’t been healthy my whole career, so any time that I could give an effort like I had last year — the results weren’t there, but I was able to give a ton of innings and the workload was there,” Pavano said. “Obviously, the success wasn’t where I needed or wanted to be, but that’s half the battle is being able to go out there for 35 starts. Usually, a lot of those things take care of themselves.”
Pavano has already been tabbed the Twins’ opening day starter for the 2012 season. He’ll take the mound for Minnesota on April 6 in Baltimore, just as he did last season against Toronto.
Pavano was also the Yankees’ opening day starter in 2007. For him, it’s something that doesn’t get old.
“It’s always exciting to lead the staff at the beginning of the year and getting the opportunity to be the guy that needs to set the tone,” Pavano said. “That’s what you play for, to have that role. I’m excited to be put in that position.”
As one of Minnesota’s leaders, it’s likely Pavano will take over one of the two vacant corner lockers in the Twins’ clubhouse. Two of those four are currently occupied by stars Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Last year, the other two belonged to outfielder Michael Cuddyer and closer Joe Nathan, both of whom left Minnesota this offseason via free agency. The Twins also lost outfielder Jason Kubel to free agency, meaning the locker room will look much different in 2012.
But after 13 seasons, Pavano fully understands the business of the game.
“Sometimes the turnover can be kind of frustrating,” Pavano said. “I think you’ve got to be kind of excited about it in the sense that it’s new faces; it’s new times. There’s going to be new accomplishments and new goals. Sometimes a change is good, I think.”
Twins reliever Glen Perkins said he’s confident Pavano will take one of the two available corner lockers, and Pavano confirmed he’s already been approached about it.
“(Equipment manager Rod McCormick asked), ‘You want to take Nathan’s locker?’ I said, ‘I’m going to have to call Nathan and ask him,’ ” Pavano said. “Those are big spots to fill — not only the lockers but the uniforms and the names. Amazing teammates, amazing guys, amazing friends. There’s no doubt we’re going to miss them. Fortunately, we’ve got some guys in this locker room and in this room right now that are going to do the job and do it well.”