Carl Pavano made his third Minor League rehab start of the season on Thursday during Double-A Trenton Thunder's "Health Fair Night." And though he didn't peruse any of the information booths for rehabilitation tips, his outing displayed the abilities of modern medicine, as the 32-year-old pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings against the Akron Aeros.
The 6-foot-5 right-hander -- who's working his way back from right elbow surgery and was placed on the 60-day disabled list on March 21, 2008 -- threw 63 pitches (38 for strikes), allowed one hit, walked two, struck out four and uncorked two wild pitches. He faced 14 batters, forcing four groundouts and three flyouts.
"I'm pleasantly surprised how I feel after the surgery and pleasantly surprised that I'm able to step in and pick up where I've left off previous times before injuries," he said. "I think my location was better than it's been. Velocity-wise, I'm not really interested in that, I'm just worried about location."
Pavano, the Eastern League Pitcher of the Year for the Thunder in 1996, demonstrated signs of his old self, throwing all his pitches for strikes, flashing a late-breaking slider and keeping the ball low in the zone.
"I thought he threw the ball really well. He definitely has a good changeup and he can really command his fastball. It's pretty evident why he's a Major League pitcher," said Trenton manager Tony Franklin.
The Yankees' Opening Day starter in 2007 visibly tired as the game wore on, but he said he didn't feel any soreness in his elbow. Through the first two innings, he threw 19 strikes, seven balls and notched five first-pitch strikes. In the third and part of the fourth, he delivered 19 strikes, 18 balls, two walks and recorded just two first-pitch strikes.
His pitch count of 63 was his highest total since his April 9, 2007, start against Minnesota, when he threw 79 pitches over seven innings. In his previous two rehab starts with Class A Charleston, Pavano allowed one run in a combined five innings and was limited to no more than 45 pitches.
"I did hit a wall in that inning. It's the first time I've thrown 60 pitches and as expected, I was a little tired in that last inning," said Pavano, who will now settle into a routine schedule of pitching on five days of rest. "It's just building up the stamina and getting my legs underneath me. I feel like every time I've gone out and deeper into the game I've gotten a better feel."
"I went out to get him and I said jokingly, 'Man, you're cruising,' and he said, 'I'm out of gas,'" Franklin said.
Despite what Pavano termed the delicate nature of his injury, he's being aggressive with his recovery.
"Yeah, I'm pushing it," he said. "Anything's risky. That surgery's a big surgery, it's a successful surgery. Every day that I feel good is a good day for me. I'm definitely being aggressive, I'm not holding back. I'm throwing all my pitches and I feel pretty good about it."
Perhaps part of the reason -- in addition yearning to aid a staff that's been plagued by injuries to starters this season -- that Pavano is hastening his rehabilitation is because he's got something to prove to the Yankees.
"I think you always have something to show," Pavano said, referring to some of the verbal wars he's been through with the organization. "I don't think it ever changes. You always want to be motivated to prove to yourself that you belong. Once you lose that, what is there to play for?
"No one's frustrated more than I am over the things in the past, but that's in the past and I can't worry about that."
The New Britain, Conn., native allowed his only hit of the game in the first inning, surrendering a double to Josh Rodriguez. Rodriguez advanced to third on a wild pitch, but Pavano stranded him, as Wes Hodges flied out to center to end the threat.
In the second, Pavano was aided by two superb defensive plays, one by shortstop Ramiro Pena (who represented the Thunder in the Futures Game on July 13) and the other by first baseman Chris Malec. Pena took two steps to his right, backhanded the ball and fired a one-hopper to first to get Matt Whitney by a step. The next batter, Nathan Panther, smoked a line drive to first that was picked on one hop and taken to the bag by Malec.
Pavano retired seven consecutive batters before he issued his first walk of the evening to leadoff hitter Jose Costanza with two outs in the third. Costanza wound up on third base after stealing second and advancing on a throwing error by catcher Francisco Cervelli. Pavano stranded his second runner of the evening at third when Rodriguez grounded out to end the inning.
In the fourth, Pavano walked Bronson Sardinha and allowed him to advance to second on his second wild pitch of the evening. Following a groundout, Pavano caught Stephen Head looking to complete his outing, exiting with two outs and a runner on third.
"I think this was a good outing for Carl," Franklin said. "I hope he feels good about it, because I thought he was pretty good."
"Hopefully I wake up tomorrow feeling good, get my workouts in and continue the routine I've been on," Pavano said.
There's no word yet on when and where Pavano will make his next start.
Nick Cammarota is an associate reporter for MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.