Pavano's New Start

Carl Pavano left Cleveland's training complex a few days ago wearing a black Rolling Stones' T-shirt with the iconic protruding-tongue logo on the front.

No, it wasn't a message directed at the Yankees or New York's media.

But Pavano, a monumental free-agent bust in New York where he spent most of four years on the disabled list, being disparaged by teammates who questioned his heart and work ethic and ridiculed in the tabloids, is glad to be out of pinstripes that at times felt like striped prison garb.

He's been reborn with the Indians.

"It's a new start," he said Wednesday.

Pavano signed a one-year $1.5 million deal with Cleveland in January, and although the 33-year-old with a history of elbow problems has made just 26 starts since 2005, he was immediately penciled in as the Indians' No. 3 starter behind AL Cy Young winner Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona. Not bad for a guy dubbed "American Idle" in New York for his inability to stay healthy or live up to enormous expectations attached to a four-year, $40 million contract.

He has spent the past few weeks getting to know new teammates and refreshing old connections with Lee, Kerry Wood, Rafael Betancourt, Jake Westbrook and Indians manager Eric Wedge, whom he first met when he was a 19-year-old prospect in Boston's organization.

"It's nice to have some familiar faces, and one of them being the manager always helps," Pavano said during a quick change in the clubhouse before heading to the weight room. "It's nice, and it's welcomed."

New York swallowed Pavano whole.

Signed by the Yankees after winning 18 games for Florida in 2004, Pavano had his first season in New York cut short after 17 games because of shoulder tendinitis. In 2006, he missed training camp with a bad back, began the season on the DL with more shoulder trouble and then had elbow surgery.

During rehab, he broke two ribs in a car accident and hid the injury from the Yankees.

He started on opening day for New York in 2007, but made just one more appearance before being sidelined with forearm tightness and eventually underwent reconstructive elbow surgery. He missed New York's first 128 games last season but made seven starts after Aug. 23.

The strong finish wasn't enough to satisfy the Yankees, who released Pavano in November.

"I failed miserably for four years on a big stage, which was no fun," he said. "I just kept my mouth shut and kept plugging away. I took a lot of abuse, which I'm happy is all in the past."

Pavano thought his final chapter as a Yankee was closed.

But in his new best seller, "The Yankee Years," former New York and current Los Angeles Dodgers manager Joe Torre threw some literary high heat at Pavano, an All-Star in 2004. Torre claimed that "the (Yankees) players hated" Pavano and questioned the right-hander's commitment and willingness to pitch through pain.

In the book, co-authored by Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci, Yankees bullpen catcher Mike Borzello is quoted as saying: "Guys on the team despised him (Pavano). One day Jeet (Derek Jeter) walked by him and said, 'Hey, Pav. You ever going to play? Ever?' Wow. That was a damaging comment coming from Jeter."

Pavano is aware of Torre's remarks but isn't taking them to heart.

"It's tough when the person doesn't say them to your face, but who knows how they're being interpreted?" he said. "Everything in the media is embellished to make it better or worse than sometimes it really is. So unless a person says it to my face, I really don't put too much thought into it. I don't like hearing those things, but it's part of the game.

"That's not the type of guy I am. You're not going to hear me say things like that about teammates. I just go about my business. Everyone is an individual. We all have flaws. We all are going to make mistakes and you always support each other. I've always tried to do that wherever I've been."

Pavano also felt like he was targeted too often by New York's insatiable media, which didn't seem willing to cut him any slack.

"I didn't try to fight it," he said. "It frustrated me at times because everything that I had to talk about was negative. How do you turn the page when you're constantly being reminded of that stuff? No one can control injuries and no one likes injuries. I don't know one person who has ever enjoyed being injured. It's so much fun being out there and competing and winning. That's how we're built, with that competitive nature. All that other stuff can go out the window."

That's exactly how the Indians are viewing Pavano's injury-riddled past. They have been pleased with what he's shown them so far, and Wedge doesn't see Pavano's signing as a risk.

"I feel like we're making a pretty good bet about him physically because he's far enough along and beyond that," he said. "I feel pretty confident when I look at him in our rotation. We still think there is a lot there."

An outcast in New York, Pavano already feels like he's part of Cleveland's family. As long as his arm holds up he feels he can deliver for the Indians.

"The health is there and repetition should help me get back to being my old self," he said. "I take it as a compliment that they believe in me and they're giving me the opportunity. What more could you want?"

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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