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Pavano's desire questioned by Mussina

Pavano goes through good news, bad news day

TAMPA, Fla. -- Carl Pavano stood alongside his Yankees rotation mates on Thursday, appearing fluid and strong as he announced his health by repeatedly popping catcher Ben Davis' glove.

That was the good news. The bad news for Pavano is that his relationship with the team's clubhouse may be in need of further rehabilitation, based upon later comments made by Mike Mussina.

Mussina said that Pavano needs to prove he wants to pitch for the Yankees, with Pavano's long injury-related absences having left doubt in some players' minds. Mussina said he does not believe he is the only Yankee who feels this way.

"It didn't look good from a player's and teammate's standpoint," Mussina said. "Was everything just coincidence? Over and over again? I don't know."

Pavano, 31, spent months working out in Phoenix under trainer Brett Fischer, and the results have been visible early in camp. Pavano appears trimmer and more fluid, and his pitches have added bite.

But Pavano's apparent unwillingness to acknowledge a separation between himself and his teammates, in part, drew Mussina's ire.

Pavano told reporters Thursday that any division between himself and the roster has been media-created, saying, "It was more hyped up by you guys than anything else."

"I didn't come in here nervous that my teammates would oust me or give me the cold shoulder," Pavano said.

He may not be persona non grata, but Pavano hasn't been warmly embraced, either. Mussina said that Pavano's acceptance level is not optimal, and he is unsure how the hurler will be treated when the Yankees' full roster reports to Legends Field.

Even manager Joe Torre has said the amount of work Pavano needs to do in repairing his clubhouse image is "sizable."

"[Pavano] is only looking at it from his perspective," Mussina said. "We're looking at it from our perspective. We want him to go out there and show us that he wants to do this."

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that he was not troubled by the opinions voiced in the clubhouse, calling it "part of the Spring Training process." Cashman also said that Pavano is cognizant of the issues circulating, but is attempting to work past them.

"He understands the problem," Cashman said. "I think he's trying to move on, but obviously when you're in an environment that's covered like we are, it's harder to escape what's happened in the past. He wants to turn the page as quickly as possible."

Pavano last pitched in a Major League game on June 27, 2005, and the 1 1/2 seasons that followed were marred by various injuries.

The Yankees believed Pavano would be a member of their 2006 rotation, but he was limited to just a selection of Minor League rehab starts after injuring his buttocks in Spring Training. Later, the right-hander was disturbed by ailments in his back, elbow and ribs.

"It's been a long road, obviously," Pavano said. "It's good to get all of those things behind me and start moving forward."

But there may be unfinished business to attend to. Mussina, 37, suggested that Pavano's level of commitment had been lacking, saying that the display had left "a bad taste in [his] mouth."

"As another starting pitcher who hasn't been 100 percent all of the last two years, I know what it takes to be able to go out there and pitch," Mussina said. "And I know when you can't go out there and pitch. Sometimes it's a fine line, but I think after 15 years, I kind of know where the line is."

One of the final straws for some of Pavano's Yankees teammates -- and the low point in Pavano's absence, he said -- came in August. Pavano appeared close to returning to the big leagues, but instead broke two ribs in an automobile accident.

Pavano called the whole sequence of events "kind of funky." The last incident prompted a teammate to hang a newspaper cover that read "Crash Test Dummy" in Pavano's Yankee Stadium locker.

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"It got to a point where we just didn't want to even hear about it or talk about it anymore," Mussina said.

Mussina said he did not plan to discuss the matter with Pavano face-to-face, though surely the message of discontent will be relayed through the media.

"Actions speak louder than words," Mussina said.

Pavano's clubhouse image may not be beyond repair, however. The right-hander is tentatively envisioned as a member of the team's starting rotation, and teammates are looking to Pavano to continue stating his case for that spot.

"We need him," catcher Jorge Posada said. "I think last year was just one of those years that he really didn't feel good the whole year. It was one injury after another. When you hear a guy is going through so many injuries, you're thinking, 'Is he all right?'"

Mussina said that, more than anything, the Yankees need Pavano to prove his health, then his desire. That effort would go a long way in eventually fixing whatever matters still linger from the long absence.

"If he takes the ball and goes out and pitches, and does the things he's supposed to be doing, it'll go away," Mussina said. "It will go away. We're all in this together. We want him to pitch and need him to pitch."

Thursday represented the first step toward that point for Pavano, who said he felt the day's on-field developments were significant.

Pavano threw for about eight minutes to Davis, who had been the hurler's batterymate last season when both were on rehab assignments in the Florida State League.

Davis said the differences were noticeable, as Pavano never seemed able to get completely loose last season in Tampa.

"He looked really good [Thursday]," Davis said. "He was obviously not trying to do too much, but everything was down in the zone. It was nice."

Pavano has said that he did not plan to go around the room and apologize to individual Yankees players for his extended absence, as Jason Giambi did when ailments kept him off the playing field.

Pavano said he was not worried about how his teammates will receive him as camp continues.

"I have no control over that," Pavano said. "My future looks and feels a lot brighter."

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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