Pavano must pace himself for return

BY foxsports • July 13, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS — Since becoming a member of the Minnesota Twins late in the 2009 season, Carl Pavano has been an innings-eater. The 14-year veteran pitched over 220 innings in both the 2010 and 2011 seasons. No matter how the rest of the rotation was pitching at the time, the Twins could count on Pavano to pitch deep into games.

That hasn't been the case in 2012, and no one is more frustrated about it than Pavano. Now 36 years old, Pavano has spent over a month on the disabled list this season with a right shoulder strain. He hasn't pitched since June 1 after making 11 starts this year.

For a Twins team desperately in need of starting pitching, Pavano can't provide it.

"It's no fun being in this position," Pavano said Friday. "It's an opportune time to be a starting pitcher for the Minnesota Twins. They need me. That's why they signed me for two years. It's been frustrating for me not to be able to go out there and compete for my team. There's no doubt. I'm letting myself down. I'm letting everyone down around me."

Pavano dealt with injuries while playing under the bright lights of New York City when he was with the Yankees from 2005-08. He missed the entire 2006 season due to numerous injuries.

When he came to Minnesota, Pavano thought he had put his injury-plagued past behind him. He was 17-11 with a 3.75 ERA in 32 starts in 2010 and went 9-13 with a 4.30 ERA in 33 starts last season with the Twins. He was expected to be one of the workhorses in Minnesota's rotation in 2012, especially after right-hander Scott Baker was shut down for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

That is, until his shoulder became an issue.

Up until this year, Pavano had stayed healthy while in Minnesota. But there were warning signs early in the season when Pavano's velocity on his fastball was noticeably slower than where it was the previous season. According to PITCHf/x data, Pavano's fastball was averaging 86.2 mph this season, compared to 88.7 mph in 2011 and 90.0 mph in 2010.

Pavano pitched through discomfort before it was finally too much to handle and he was placed on the disabled list. Would he have handled things differently now that he knows how lengthy the rehab process has been?

"This is one of those situations where I'm not going to second-guess it," Pavano said. "I am where I am right now. I just have to move on. Looking back, hindsight is always 20-20, but to be honest with you I did the right thing. I needed to take the ball. We had Baker who was going through some things. That's my job, to take the ball. I didn't pitch well and I was definitely dealing with something that was hindering me a little bit. My honest opinion was that I was going to get through it."

For now, it's a slow climb back from the DL for Pavano. Twins general manager Terry Ryan said Friday that it's doubtful Pavano will be back with the team before the July 31 trade deadline.

Pavano played long toss from 120 on Friday and he'll throw again Sunday, with the hope of throwing off the mound by next week. He'll still likely need a rehab assignment since he hasn't pitched in over a month.

"The big thing is trying to stay away from setbacks. Start doing too much and then we have a setback or something, you don't want to go there," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "We want to make sure he's healthy before he gets out there and starts really letting it fly. He's working his program and he's going day by day. Once we get him on the mound and he's able to throw off a mound then we know we're a little bit closer. But we're not there yet.

Pavano, the veteran of the pitching staff, is both antsy to get back on the mound but at the same time patient to not rush back too soon. As he deals with his shoulder injury, Pavano has been forced to watch as the Twins have struggled to a 36-49 record at the break.

Pitching has been a big reason why, and Pavano is frustrated that he can't be part of the solution.

"This game isn't easy, but it is a lot harder on the DL, because you start playing mind games," Pavano said. "You see the team struggling. You see the team going through a lot of starters, calling up guys that maybe weren't quite ready to start, but we have no one because I'm not available. You feel like you put your team in that position and I did in essence.

"It's not something I did on purpose. They paid me a lot of money to go out there and be the guy they can count on and they haven't been able to do that. There's no doubt that it's frustrating for me and everyone involved. There's not much I can do, there's not much I can control than (to) work hard, stay positive and be here for my teammates and do everything I can do to get back."

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