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Pavano likely to go Opening Day

Pavano likely to go Opening Day

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees learned Saturday that their Opening Day starter won't be Chien-Ming Wang, who will miss most of the season's first month with a Grade 1 strain of his right hamstring.

Because of the way the rotation aligns for the season opener, it won't be Andy Pettitte or Mike Mussina, either. Manager Joe Torre said that the Yankees will select from a group including Carl Pavano, Kei Igawa and Jeff Karstens to throw the season's first pitch on April 2.

Of those three -- unbelievable as it might seem -- Pavano has become the likely favorite.

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The 31-year-old right-hander has missed the last 1 1/2 Major League seasons due to a variety of injuries, but he is the most experienced of the hurlers left standing to accept the assignment.

"It's Opening Day, but there are 161 other games," Torre said. "It certainly is an important game, but so are the other ones."

The Yankees are planning a meeting on Monday to discuss the possibility of Pavano kicking off their 2007 campaign, along with a variety of other issues. Pavano hasn't appeared in a Major League game since June 27, 2005, and has never pitched on an Opening Day.

He does have experience, though, compiling a 61-64 record in 184 Major League games dating back to his 1998 debut. Separated from his teammates for nearly all of last season, Pavano has also made strides in winning back members of the clubhouse this spring.

In four Spring Training games (three starts), Pavano is 0-1 with a 5.84 ERA. In 12 1/3 innings, he has allowed 18 hits, walking seven and striking out five.

Torre said that dealing with the atmosphere of a season opener will come into consideration for the assignment. Opening Day at Yankee Stadium is a frenzied ritual of celebration, an energetic environment created by a baseball-starved capacity crowd.

Those may not be the ideal conditions under which Igawa, a 27-year-old Japanese import, would make his Major League debut. Karstens -- now securely projected as New York's fifth starter in Wang's absence -- has just eight games of big-league experience.

"If you think somebody's going to be a little bent out of shape over it, it would probably enter into it," Torre said. "But to me, if the guy is going to pitch at Yankee Stadium -- whether it's Monday or Wednesday or Thursday -- there's going to be a lot of people there.

"I give you, Opening Day -- all the introductions -- you have a tendency to certainly make more of it. I'm not saying that's wrong. Anytime you really count on somebody at this level for this team, you take that into consideration."

The Yankees are moving past Pettitte and Mussina due to scheduling concerns. Pettitte has been suffering from back spasms, and while he is feeling better, the veteran southpaw is not expected to pitch before Thursday, which will place him off turn.

If Pettitte pitched Friday against the Tigers at Lakeland, he would be on regular rest for Game 2 of the regular season on April 4, though the Yankees might not use him until April 5.

Likewise, Torre said the Yankees will not allow Mussina to pitch on three days' rest against Tampa Bay following a scheduled exhibition start on Thursday against the Blue Jays at Dunedin.

"That's something we certainly don't want to do," Torre said. "I don't see any reason to do that. It's one game. Whether you win Game 1 or Game 2 or Game 3, you still have to pitch one of those games. We certainly want to get him as comfortable as we can get."

Torre said that the Yankees had been aligning their rotation for Wang to pitch the season opener, though they never officially informed the right-hander -- or the media -- that Wang was being tabbed.

"He was lined up for it," Torre said. "It was pretty much understood, even though he was never told that. That's what we were sort of looking to."

No one would have guessed where their search might eventually wind up.

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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