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Pavano returns to rotation on Saturday

Pavano returns to rotation Saturday

TORONTO -- Their streak of 13 consecutive playoff appearances hanging in serious doubt, the Yankees are ready to accept help from any place they can find it.

Thus, Carl Pavano can expect to be embraced from four corners of the clubhouse as he slots into New York's rotation this weekend, overlooking his lengthy absences and various accompanying dramatics.

The 32-year-old right-hander has been tabbed as the club's starter on Saturday in Baltimore, completing his return to the Major Leagues from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery.

"It's all about the moment, it's all about the day," Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "Ironically enough, we've never needed him more than now."

Pavano spoke to general manager Brian Cashman by telephone on Thursday afternoon and will join the club in Baltimore on Friday, agent Tom O'Connell said. The righty is in the final months of a four-year, $39.95 million contract with the Yankees, which proved to be an unfruitful and injury-marred agreement.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that Pavano was selected for Saturday's start because he was deemed closer to big league ready than rookie Phil Hughes, who was also in contention for the start. Girardi said that Pavano's lengthy history was not a consideration, and that he would come in with a clean slate.

"We need Carl to perform, and he's a Yankee," Girardi said. "I'm not worried about that. I think he'll be welcomed with open arms."

Pavano has appeared in just 19 games with New York since the beginning of his contract, including two starts last April in which he went 1-0 before he was shut down for the season, undergoing surgery on June 5 in New York.

Teammates such as Mike Mussina questioned Pavano's desire last year, wondering if there should be blame cast for the litany of injuries Pavano has suffered -- at various times, he has hurt his shoulder, back, buttocks, elbow and ribs -- that kept him off the mound for the Yankees.

Mussina's locker was empty on Thursday at Rogers Centre, having already flown ahead to Baltimore in preparation for his start coming up on Friday, but several teammates pledged support for Pavano as he prepared to make his first big league start since April 9, 2007.

"To be quite honest with you, right now I'm not thinking about anything that's happened with him in the last four years," Derek Jeter said. "I'm really not thinking about that. What you think about is him pitching on Saturday. You hope he can help us win. You can't sit around and think about what happened before, because it has no bearing on this season."

Said O'Connell: "He's worked extremely hard to put himself in this position and to be able to come back and compete at the highest level this season. I think it's just a testament to how hard he's pushed himself to rejoin his club before the end of the season."

Johnny Damon said that he spoke with Pavano while the outfielder was in Tampa, Fla., rehabilitating an injured left shoulder he suffered crashing into the Yankee Stadium outfield wall on July 4. Damon said he could tell Pavano had "the itch" to escape Tampa and get back on a big league mound.

"I think he'll be fine," Damon said. "I got to see Carl down in Tampa, and his mind seemed to be right and focused. He knows this is a big month and a half for him. He knows he needs to prove not only to us, but the rest of baseball, that he's healthy and he can still pitch in the big leagues. You know he's going to come and give us his best."

O'Connell said that Pavano is not necessarily concerned with changing people's opinions of his Yankees tenure. When healthy, Pavano has been a proven big league pitcher -- he has a career record of 62-64 in 186 career games with the Yankees, Expos and Marlins.

As Rodriguez said, "Really, no one has ever questioned Pavano's ability." But only five of those victories came in a Yankees uniform.

"The one thing is his experience," Girardi said. "He's pitched in big games before and pitched in the playoffs. You're not talking about a kid who's coming up or a rookie that doesn't have a ton of innings under his belt in the big leagues. We're expecting him to throw well and keep us in the ballgame and give us an opportunity to win."

The starting nod provides Pavano with an opportunity to make some sort of positive impression coming into a free-agency year, regardless of where he could or would seek employment. A strong showing could help secure a guaranteed Major League deal with a club.

"He can make amends with New York and with the fans," Damon said. "I know he wants to try and keep eyes open elsewhere in case he's not back here. He is a free agent after this season, so these are a very important five weeks for him."

O'Connell said that Pavano's next contract is not a consideration at this point.

"We're going to take it one step at a time. We haven't really begun to discuss next year," O'Connell said. "Right now, we're really focused on Saturday. However the chips fall in the next month and a half, they fall. But right now, Carl is just extremely excited to rejoin the club."

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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