Mussina says Pavano has much to prove to Yankees

Updated: February 18, 2007, 8:58 AM ET
Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- Carl Pavano and Mike Mussina pitched off adjacent mounds in the bullpen as the New York Yankees started spring training workouts Thursday.

A short while later, Mussina said the oft-injured Pavano isn't in sync with his teammates just yet.

"He needs to show a lot of people that he wants to go out there and pitch for us. If he shows us that, I think everything is going to be fine," Mussina said.

Pavano hasn't pitched in the major leagues since June 2005 because of shoulder, back, buttocks, elbow and rib injuries. Entering the third season of a $39.95 million, four-year contract, the 31-year-old right-hander has made just 17 starts for the Yankees, going 4-6 with a 4.77 ERA.

On Tuesday, when asked how much work Pavano had to do to regain the trust and respect of his teammates, Yankees manager Joe Torre responded: "It's sizable."

"Joe obviously has his opinions on it," Pavano told reporters. "I didn't come in here nervous that my teammates are going to oust me or give me the cold shoulder. I know that definitely there's respect to be earned. Other things that were said, I think were just things that you guys are having a lot of fun with."

Mussina, the senior pitcher in the Yankees' starting rotation, took issue with that, saying the chasm was real and not just a media creation. Sitting in his corner chair in the clubhouse at Legends Field, taking pauses to phrase his words precisely, he spoke of the frustration he has felt.

"He's only looking at it from his perspective. We're looking at it from our perspective, those of us that have been through both years. We want him to go out there and show that he wants to do this," Mussina said. "It got to a point where we just didn't even want to hear about it or talk about it anymore."

The extent of how much Pavano must do to regain respect was evident when Mussina was asked whether he would give Pavano the benefit of the doubt that he's going to do all he can to pitch.

"No, not just yet. Not yet, no," Mussina replied. "I want to see that he wants to do it."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has repeatedly said that all of Pavano's injuries were legitimate. But while Pavano wasn't pitching, center fielder Johnny Damon, first baseman Jason Giambi, Mussina and others played hurt.

"When one guy is out there playing the game despite whatever is going on and somebody else is not, that's how teammates get bad tastes in their mouths," Mussina said. "As another starting pitcher, who hasn't been 100 percent for all of the last two years, I know what it takes to be able to go out there and pitch, and I know when you can't go out there and pitch. And sometimes it's a fine line, but I think after 15 years I kind of know where the line is."

Pavano says that one injury led to another and that he finally feels well after working out with a new trainer in Arizona during the offseason. Some of his teammates kept pointing out that each time it appeared he was close to being ready to pitch in the major leagues, another injury occurred.

"I'm looking at from a perspective of just the way each thing happened and the timing of it and just piecing all those things together," Mussina said. "You get to form your own evaluation. It didn't look good. From a player's and a teammate's standpoint, it didn't look good. Was everything just coincidence over and over again? I don't know."

Taking his regular turn in the rotation would solve Pavano's problem with his teammates.

"If he does those things, eventually it's going to show everybody that he wants to be out there pitching for us," Mussina said.

On that, they agreed:

"Obviously, I've got to go out there and pitch. Other than that, I don't think there's really much left to do," Pavano said. "I know a lot of these guys obviously are frustrated. I think it's more of a compliment. They're frustrated because they know I can help them, and I haven't been able to do that."

As always, Yankees captain Derek Jeter was circumspect. Asked whether Pavano needed to regain trust and respect, he answered as if he were a diplomat.

"I wouldn't necessarily say that. You want him to be healthy," Jeter said. "He just has to go, prove he's healthy and go out there and pitch. Then he'll be fine."

After watching Mussina, Pavano, Andy Pettitte, Chien-Ming Wang and Kei Igawa pitch for eight minutes each, Torre said Pavano would have to learn to compete again in game situations.

"I think that's going to take a special preparation and focus, but again that's what spring training is for," the manager said. "Certainly can't do it in the bullpen."


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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