PHOENIX – Carl Pavano pitched two innings here Saturday afternoon.
Go ahead, get it out of your system. He can wait.
No, he didn't blow a hammy toweling off. No, he wasn't medevac-ed out of the ballpark. No, he didn't burst into flames, anything like that. Didn't cause the bus to spin out on the way home.
Well, he gets it.
"I feel good," he said, wrapped in Ace bandages and ice. "But I don't want to jinx it."
Stuff happens to Pavano, maybe enough of it self-inflicted to think Pavano happens to Pavano, and then there are days like Saturday, when the innings are clean and so are the X-rays.
Sadly for the Cleveland Indians, who signed up for Project Pavano, the calendar still said February, meaning five more weeks of peril lurk before opening day.
Carl Pavano turned 33 a couple months back. He's had one season you might say lived up to his talent, that being 2004, his walk year and the one that convinced the New York Yankees to go four years, $39.5 million on him. He still looks great in a baseball uniform, still throws that heavy fastball and disappearing changeup, still breaks bats.
Of course, you know what happened in New York.
If anyone dogged him worse than the tabloids, it was his own manager and teammates. He pitched 145 2/3 innings in the course of that contract and won nine games, all while the Yankees were losing ground in the American League East because the Boston Red Sox (and then Tampa Bay Rays) were pitching better. Pavano became an easy target, again, in part because he painted a bull's-eye on his own rear end (which he strained in 2006).
Pavano dismissed all the rhetoric and criticism as little more than newspaper-selling techniques, except Joe Torre, Mike Mussina and the others wouldn't seem to have a stake in the back page of the New York Post. If so, hey, newspapers will gladly take the effort. Whatever the motivations and whomever bore the blame, there is no bust quite like a Yankees bust, and there have been few recent Yankees busts like Pavano, which leads us to the Indians, a $1.5 million contract, an open spot in the rotation and a warm Saturday afternoon against the Oakland A's.
So far and – I hope this doesn't make GM Mark Shapiro's head explode – barring injury, Pavano is pretty much promised a starting job in manager Eric Wedge's rotation. Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona have two spots, and Anthony Reyes and Jeremy Sowers are reasonable guesses for two more. So Pavano doesn't have to risk body parts this spring to impress the club or make good on New York, if that had even been a consideration.
He is a little more than a year-and-a-half out on Tommy John surgery, and in that way reminds you of the guy whose tombstone reads, "I told you I was sick." Clearly, some of those elbow aches were legit, and he did make seven starts late last season. Granted, they were meaningless as they related to the Yankees and critical as they related to his own free agency, but he pitched pretty well, and no one ever doubted what he might do with 30 uninterrupted starts.
So Pavano stood in front of his temporary locker here and started over again. Just a few reporters stood before him, fewer still trying to sell papers.
"I don't know about reinventing myself," he said, "but I like the situation I'm in."
He said he likes the people around him and the way his arm (et al.) feels and that that ought to be good enough for the moment.
"When you're dealing with a body that's always giving up on you," he said, "it's tough to stay on top of your game. I've dealt with a lot, so …"
Told he spoke about his own body as though it were someone else's, as though it were a completely different being, he laughed.
"Have you read the articles?" he asked. "It does seem like a second person."
He might have an argument on who quit on whom, but that seemed the least of Pavano's concerns Saturday. Could be New York was just too big for him, that his body shut down before his head did, and if so the Indians will benefit from the last four years. They might end up paying him as much as $6.8 million with incentives, but the bonus dollars don't even kick in until 18 starts or 130 innings, whichever comes first, so only if he's worth it.
The thing is, if Pavano pitches poorly or can't stay off the DL, he'll confirm everything said and written about him in New York. If he pitches to his talent, puts up some numbers, makes 30 starts, he'll confirm everything said and written about him in New York.
So, there you go. Here's the ball.
"What are you going to do?" he said.