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Yankees in trouble? (Arguably.)

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

LAKELAND, Fla. – It looks like Carl Pavano is going to start on Opening Day for the New York Yankees.

(Right.)

That's a joke. You're supposed to laugh.

(Sorry. It's true.)

Wait. Carl Pavano, who last threw in a major league game June 27, 2005? Carl Pavano, who was so reviled by teammates that earlier this spring Mike Mussina took a Ginsu to what was left of his reputation? Carl Pavano, who pulled off the rare feat of having a pain in the ass (bruised buttocks) and being one?

(Carla herself.)

What in the name of Hensley Meulens is going on in the Bronx?

(Remember, Chicken Little, it's just one game. Yet Opening Day still is supposed to be loaded with promise and anticipation and potential, and if Pavano best exemplifies that for the Yankees, WFAN's phone lines might spontaneously combust. It's not even April 1, and Chien-Ming Wang's hamstring injury has left the Yankees looking particularly vulnerable for the season's first month.)

Which, excepting the 2005 season, has been a bountiful one in Joe Torre's tenure as manager. In the last 11 Aprils, the Yankees are 160-107. On Opening Day, they have started Roger Clemens four times, Randy Johnson and David Cone twice and Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and Orlando Hernandez once.

(And now Carl Pavano once.)

"It's something you always dread as a manager," Torre said.

(Now, come on! No taking quotes out of context. What Torre really said was: "It's something you always dread as a manager, that something happens to your pitchers." Losing Wang hurts. His replacement in the rotation, Jeff Karstens, is ailing, too. Darrell Rasner is next in line. And after that come the groundskeeper, the batboy and, if worst comes to worst, the dude selling pagers out of his pizza joint on 161st.)

Actually, next could be Phil Hughes, even though this spring he looked nothing like the best pitching prospect in baseball. It's probably too late to stretch out Ron Villone to start, and the waiver wire usually is barren by the time the Yankees get their shot at players. The Yankees want Hughes to spend at least a few months in Triple-A before he debuts in the big leagues.

(And by that time, they probably won't need him because Roger Clemens will be in their rotation.)

You say that like it's fact.

(See, this is why the Yankees' whole skinflint routine is, at its core, somewhat misleading: How many teams can afford to throw $15 million at someone midseason? Clemens is coming back. Don't believe otherwise. He is throwing. And even if Wang returns full strength, Pavano resurrects his career and Kei Igawa keeps the ball over the plate, the allure of Clemens' return is too great for the Yankees to let him slip away to an average Houston Astros team or, heaven forbid, the Boston Red Sox.)

So maybe the Pavano panic was a little overboard.

(Yankees fans? Panic unnecessarily? You don't say.)

Hey, the lineup still can mash. Alex Rodriguez almost certainly will be better than last year, provided he spends his time worrying about getting hits and not sending Derek Jeter cloying text messages.

(JEET WUD U LIKE 2 GET SUM ICE CREAM?)

A-Rod seems like the kind of guy who would use all caps, doesn't he?

(Yep.)

Jeter should have won MVP last season. Jason Giambi could come close to his BALCO-era numbers. Hideki Matsui is due an MVP-type season one of these years. And listening to Torre fawn over Bobby Abreu's ability to take a walk only reinforced the notion that the Yankees' lineup, over a 162-game season, is unparalleled.

(And there, of course, is the problem: Even if the lineup can carry the Yankees in a very difficult division, they're susceptible in a short series without pitching. They couldn't pound their way past Detroit last year, and their rotation swapped an aging Andy Pettitte, an unproven Igawa and a, well, enigmatic Pavano for the aging Randy Johnson, underachieving Jaret Wright and mish-mash of No. 5 starters. Improvement? Sure. Significant improvement? Hardly.)

Heaven help them.

(Why?)

Well, Carl Pavano is starting on Opening Day.

(Time to live with it. He hasn't been terrible this spring. The 5.84 ERA looks unsightly, as do the 25 base runners against five strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings. Torre is convinced he's getting better.)

Torre also is nervous: "Pressure-wise, I'm not concerned. But again, the competition being away for a couple years is still something that's first and foremost in my mind that he needs to feel on a consistent basis. It has nothing to do with his personality. It's just that you haven't competed. It's something you have to gradually get yourself into. You can't turn that switch on."

(There's a joke to be made somewhere about Pavano and turning a switch on, isn't there?)

Nah. Pavano is starting on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. Tough to get funnier than that.