Making his final tuneup start of Spring Training on Tuesday, Pavano turned in a solid six-inning showing against the Twins at Hammond Stadium, breaking several bats and earning a passing grade for his final exam before the regular season begins.
"Just because we saw this doesn't mean that automatically makes him the Game 1 starter, but it certainly is nice to see," Torre said. "He's come a long way."
Pavano scattered six hits and allowed two runs, walking one, but he let the Yankees' defense and the late movement of his two-seamer do most of the work. Pavano induced four double plays and recorded 14 of 18 outs on the ground.
"I think I've shown that I'm healthy," Pavano said. "I'm going to go out there and compete."
With less than a week remaining before the Yankees' season opens at home against the Rays, Pavano appears to be the likeliest candidate to draw the assignment.
Torre said Tuesday that the Yankees would like to see one more Grapefruit League start from left-hander Kei Igawa, and fifth starter candidate Darrell Rasner -- who pitches Wednesday against the Astros -- is not thought to be a likely choice.
Though he has not pitched in a Major League game since June 27, 2005, Pavano points out that he is no stranger to big games and frenzied atmospheres -- after all, it was his World Series performance against the Yankees in 2003 that helped pique the club's interest in signing Pavano as a free agent a year later.
Pavano admitted he would be "excited" for the Opening Day assignment, but said he did not believe it would be different than any other start. Either way, it would be a long way from what Pavano had been envisioning when he reported to the Spring Training in mid-February with the other pitchers and catchers.
"I definitely had some other things on my mind," Pavano said. "But there were times when I was down and guys were picking up my slack. It's unfortunate, the course of events that some of the guys went down, so it's my turn to pick that up."
If Pavano had known he'd be here back in February, he'd have been elated. The road through the Grapefruit League wasn't uneventful -- he suffered a bruised left foot in batting practice, left a start 45 minutes before first pitch to attend to personal issues and was nearly attacked by a swarm of bees in Sarasota.
All things considered, Pavano insisted he is ready for the long wait to end.
"I don't have all the answers for the future, but I was hoping that this would one day come to fruition," Pavano said. "It looks like it did."
Final days of battle: The Yankees' ongoing competition for a right-handed first baseman could not have taken a more stark contrast on Tuesday.
Both Andy Phillips and Josh Phelps played the full game against the Twins, batting back-to-back, with Phillips manning first base and Phelps serving as the designated hitter.
While Phelps continued to slug, hitting his third home run of the spring in the second inning off Minnesota's Boof Bonser, Phillips struck out in all four at-bats and lowered his spring batting average to .190.
"Certainly you're aware that time is dwindling and decisions are coming," Phillips said.
The Yankees are likely to wait until at least Friday before any final decisions are revealed, but Phillips' chances of making the roster have taken a hit.
While the Yankees value Phillips' years of contribution as a homegrown player and are expected to take his past Major League service into consideration, he has been trying to catch up after missing more than a week of camp while attending to his injured mother, Linda, in a Birmingham, Ala., hospital.
Because of his absence, the Yankees have been pressed to find Phillips at-bats. He has hit in Minor League games and even batted nine times in a simulated game against Andy Pettitte, but still has just 21 at-bats.
"It's like starting all over," Phillips said.
Then again, you would have to excuse Phelps if he remained a bit wary, unsure if he's done enough to convince the Yankees to carry him.
As Phelps points out, he's had the same high-caliber spring two seasons in a row. He batted .531 with three homers and nine RBI in 15 games for the Tigers last spring, only to spend the season at Triple-A Toledo.
He attributes his success this season to a clearer mental approach.
"I think I've gotten better as I've gotten older as a player, mentally," Phelps said. "I'm just trying to improve on the game as much as I can. I've just focused on going up there and playing, and not worrying about mechanics or if I get a hit or not."
No problems for pitchers: The three hurlers expected to play major roles for the Yankees in 2007 -- Chien-Ming Wang, Pettitte and Jeff Karstens -- all arrived at Legends Field separately on Tuesday morning, but their stories were consistent. The trio had some collective good news to report.
Hoping to keep his arm strong as his right hamstring recovers, Wang threw with pitching coach Ron Guidry at distances of 60 and 90 feet. Wang said he feels a lot better and hopes to beat the Yankees' projected Major League return date of late April.
Pettitte said that he felt no ill effects from a light bullpen session conducted in Tampa on Monday, meaning that he could have a more challenging workout off the mound on Wednesday. That could line Pettitte up to pitch in a Minor League game on Friday.
"I definitely didn't go backwards at all," Pettitte said. "I feel good. It's definitely positive."
Finally, Karstens could be closer to resuming baseball activities than many expected. The right-hander left his last start on Saturday with tightness in his right elbow, but MRIs and CT scans taken Monday revealed nothing out of the ordinary.
Karstens is now just wearing a protective sleeve to keep his arm warm and is taking anti-inflammatory medication, but said he had feared the examinations would reveal something much more sinister.
"I'm relieved at the fact they didn't find anything," Karstens said. "You never know."
Murcer receives vaccine: Yankees broadcaster Bobby Murcer received his first vaccine shot of an experimental clinical trial on Tuesday, and the club said that the 60-year-old former All-Star is feeling "terrific."
Murcer is expected to receive vaccine shots once a month at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The long-time fan favorite had a malignant brain tumor removed in late December, and a MRI taken last week was clear of any tumor growth.
Murcer has said that he hopes to rejoin the Yankees' YES Network broadcast team at some point during the season.
Coming up: Rasner (0-0, 1.50 ERA) gets a chance to stick in the Yankees' rotation on Wednesday, when the right-hander takes on the Astros under the lights at Legends Field at 7:15 p.m. ET. Houston is scheduled to start right-hander Brian Moehler (1-0, 4.60 ERA).
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less