As a surprise opening day starter, Carl Pavano had an encouraging albeit unimpressive performance. The New York Yankees never could have guessed it arguably would be the best they'd get from a starter after one turn through the rotation.
The Yankees are still seeking a quality start as they send Pavano back to the mound to oppose a pitcher they gave up on last season, meeting Sidney Ponson and the Minnesota Twins on Monday to open a three-game set at the Metrodome.With 19-game winner Chien-Ming Wang on the disabled list, New York began the season with a big hole in its rotation. The starting staff could not have been much worse in the opening week, posting a 9.97 ERA while not one starter lasted past the fifth inning.That's a big reason New York (2-3) failed to win either of its first two series despite facing Tampa Bay and Baltimore -- two of the AL's three worst teams record-wise from 2006."We need the starters to give us six innings," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "We know we are a better team than we've shown."Various injuries, most notably Wang's hamstring problem, led to Pavano starting the season opener. The right-hander hadn't pitched in the majors since June 27, 2005, due to a variety of injuries, leaving many fans and even some teammates to question his desire.Pavano, though, overcame some sloppy defense behind him to take a 3-1 lead into the fifth inning against Tampa Bay on Monday before running into trouble. He ended up allowing five runs -- four earned -- and six hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 9-5 win."I'm pleased, to an extent," said Pavano, who signed a $39.95 million, four-year contract in 2005. "You just want to get out there and compete."The only Yankees starter to last longer was Kei Igawa, who was tagged for seven runs and eight hits in five innings against the Orioles. Andy Pettitte and Mike Mussina each went four innings, combining to allow 10 runs and 14 hits, and Darrell Rasner gave up five runs in 4 1-3 innings of a 6-4 loss to Baltimore on Sunday."We're obviously scuffling right now," said Pettitte, who pitched one hitless inning Sunday in his second relief appearance since 1998.Ponson will try to add to the Yankees' misery.He hasn't pitched in the majors since starting for New York last Aug. 18, when he was ripped for seven runs and nine hits in three innings of a 14-11 win at Boston. It was his fifth appearance and third start as a Yankee -- he went 0-1 with a 10.47 ERA -- and the team designated him for assignment the following day before eventually releasing him.Ponson hasn't pitched in a game since the March 31 spring training finale for Minnesota (4-1), because his scheduled start Saturday at Chicago was pushed back once Friday's game was postponed."I've had to wait before; those things happen," Ponson told the team's official Web site. "It will be fun Monday. Mentally and physically I will be ready for them, but we'll just have to see how it goes."The nine-year veteran right-hander is 6-12 with a 4.63 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.Ponson faces a New York team which could be without two of its starting outfielders. Hideki Matsui was placed on the disabled list Sunday due to a strained hamstring, and Johnny Damon may be coming off the bench for a third straight game to avoid further straining his calf injury on the turf at the Metrodome.Alex Rodriguez had a two-run homer Sunday after homering twice on Saturday, including a grand slam in the ninth that gave New York a 10-7 victory.While the 2005 AL MVP has gotten hot, last year's winner may be ready to do the same.Justin Morneau went 2-for-4 with a three-run homer for Minnesota in its 3-1 win over the White Sox on Sunday. Morneau had gone 1-for-9 with no RBIs and five strikeouts in his previous three games.