That day has finally arrived. Pavano impressed with his arm strength and grit in an 8-7 loss to the Reds on Thursday, after which manager Joe Torre said the Yankees are prepared to look to Pavano every fifth day.
"We're definitely counting on him," Torre said. "The spot was his to have, and he certainly has seized the opportunity."
Completing his fourth start of the spring for New York, Pavano allowed three runs and eight hits in 4 1/3 innings, though his defense wasn't particularly helpful.
First baseman Jason Giambi couldn't see a pair of balls hit to his right, covering first base instead and then pointing to his chest, claiming responsibility. One of the hits was a two-run single for Cincinnati starter Kyle Lohse in the fourth inning.
"Nothing's ever going to be perfect," Pavano said. "It's a constant battle and grind. I think Spring Training is a good time to get your feet wet and your momentum going."
A good sign of Pavano's returning mound mettle came in the bottom of the first inning, when the 31-year-old right-hander looked up and saw the bases loaded with nobody out after three well-placed singles.
Spotting Cincinnati cleanup hitter Adam Dunn striding to home plate, Pavano said he was able to analyze the situation and come up with a solution.
"I'm thinking, 'Adam Dunn is up right here, and I need to get this guy out and go for the double play,'" Pavano said. "The smart way to go about it is to be willing to give up a couple of runs and don't give them a huge inning."
Pavano did better than that. Dunn flew out to right fielder Bobby Abreu, shallow enough that Ryan Freel could not tag up from third base, then Pavano induced Edwin Encarnacion to chop an inning-ending double-play ball to shortstop Derek Jeter.
As he bounded off the mound, Pavano received an assortment of fist-pounds in the Yankees' dugout, a grin quickly spreading across his face.
"What I'm feeling and seeing, and working on right now, feels like a positive," Pavano said. "We'll just go from there."
Pavano walked two and struck out two in Thursday's effort, throwing 72 pitches.
He appeared reasonably loose on the mound and even made a deft fielding play in the second inning, jumping off the mound to retire Lohse on a tapper toward third base.
"This is what we hoped we'd see," Torre said. "He certainly hasn't let us down."
Pavano could have two Grapefruit League starts remaining before the Yankees head north.
Catcher Jorge Posada said that Pavano has been shaking off signs of rust consistently, rounding into a more polished performer.
"I think he's almost there," Posada said. "He's going to feel better as he continues to go out there. The more he pitches, the better he's going to get."
There are still items that Pavano would like to tackle before reporting to Yankee Stadium.
The hurler said that he is looking forward to raising his pitch count to 100 and going deeper into games.
"I want to get to see hitters the third or fourth times through, and mix up my pitches a little more," Pavano said.
As for the regular season, if everything remains on turn, Pavano would likely see his return to a Major League mound occur against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium.
Asked if he has thought about what that event might hold, Pavano insisted that he is looking no further than his next bullpen session and the ensuing start.
It's worked so far, and as close as he is to erasing June 27, 2005, from consciousness, Pavano isn't in a position where he can be skipping steps.
"I don't want to get too far ahead of myself and lose what I'm trying to do now," Pavano said.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.