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Pavano gets nod for Opening Day

Pavano named Yanks' Opening Day starter

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Carl Pavano was officially announced as the Yankees' Opening Day starter on Friday, but only after plans for a surprise appearance by Andy Pettitte fell through.

The 31-year-old right-hander will make his long-awaited return to a Major League mound on Monday, facing the Devil Rays at Yankee Stadium in what will be Pavano's first career Opening Day start.

Pavano was informed of the assignment Friday morning by manager Joe Torre. As he spoke to reporters in front of his Legends Field locker, Pavano grinned widely and said it had turned into a pretty good day for him.

"The atmosphere in Yankee Stadium is, out of any sports franchise in the history of the game, it's probably the most exciting," Pavano said. "It's going to be fun."

Pavano has not pitched in a big-league contest since June 27, 2005, due to a variety of maladies and injuries, but he has proclaimed his readiness after five Grapefruit League appearances, in which he went 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA.

"I definitely feel pretty good," Pavano said. "Physically, things have held me back, which psychologically sometimes hold you back, too. I think everything has come at a pretty good pace as far as the spring went. I feel like I'm definitely moving forward."

Torre said he believed Pavano would have no trouble dealing with the celebratory atmosphere -- and a likely mixed reception -- at the team's season opener.

"I think he's used to it by now," Torre said. "Whatever comes down [on Opening Day], I hope he looks around and feels like he's going to be supported from us, because that's what we're here for."

Torre revealed that the team believed this week that Pettitte -- who threw in a Minor League game Friday, his first session against live hitters since being sidelined with back spasms -- could have made it back to the rotation in time to pitch April 2.

The plans were nixed on Thursday by pitching coach Ron Guidry, who believed it would be more productive for Pettitte to instead focus on his scheduled start Wednesday against Tampa Bay. Pettitte later admitted that an Opening Day effort would have been largely fueled by adrenaline.

"Gator put himself in Andy's spot," Torre said. "He probably could have done it, but he'd be better off if he had more work."

Had Pettitte started on Opening Day, Torre said his effort would have been capped at five innings. Pettitte needed 70 pitches to get through four innings in a Minor League game against the Blue Jays' Triple-A roster Friday.

"We talked about it a little bit," Pettitte said. "That's what we were scratching our heads about. We didn't know how much stamina there'd be."

So the assignment clearly and irrevocably belongs to Pavano, who will be pitching in his 18th game as a Yankee and seeking his fifth victory since signing a four-year, $39.95 million contract before the 2005 season.

He pitched the Yankees' second game of the season that year, throwing 6 1/3 innings against the Red Sox, but said he would try to savor this season debut a little bit more.

"I'm going to have to slow things down a little bit, because I'm sure that day I'm going to be excited," Pavano said. "I'm just going to take it day by day. There's still three more days until that start comes, so I've still got some preparation to do before I get there."

Pavano's assignment for Opening Day came as a capper to an eventful Spring Training. Ace Chien-Ming Wang went down with a right hamstring injury that is expected to keep him off a Major League mound until at least late April, Pettitte missed two turns around the rotation and the Yankees opted not to move Mike Mussina up on short rest.

Indeed, Pavano's most striking endorsement may have come Friday from Mussina, who opened the spring by firing critical barbs about Pavano, wondering aloud about Pavano's commitment and the coincidences of his numerous injuries.

The episode was put to rest with a closed-door meeting between the two right-handers. Asked about Mussina's comments weeks later, Pavano said he believes that he has come "full circle."

"There are always things you have to deal with," Pavano said. "I think the way me and Mike handled it after the situation, I thought that got everything behind us pretty quickly. I thought that was the best resolution to that."

On Friday, Mussina said that starting Pavano was "the move to make" and that he believes Pavano is now in a proper frame of mind to compete.

"He seems to be focused in on what he's doing," Mussina said. "I think he's shown us that his priorities are here. That's all we were looking for."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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