|February 16, 2006 -- TAMPA — Prior to the first vial of blood being drawn or groin stretched, Carl Pavano is behind schedule because of a balky back that may not be ready by Opening Day.
Slated to throw off a mound yesterday for the first time since a minor-league rehab game last summer, Pavano didn't make it to the hill because back specialist Dr. Robert Watkins suggested Pavano not throw until March 1.
"I talked to Dr. Watkins Saturday and we got the rehab protocol [Tuesday]," said Yankee GM Brian Cashman, who between talking to Watkins and Monday planned on having Pavano throw off a mound yesterday.
"[Watkins] recommended not throwing off a mound for 10 days to two weeks. Carl feels fine; he is disappointed, but we have the time to make sure there are no issues."
Pavano was sent to see Watkins in Los Angeles last week after complaining about stiffness in the lower left side of his back.
Until Pavano can work through an exercise program designed to strengthen core muscles, he won't throw off a mound. He will continue to toss on flat ground, as he did yesterday.
So Pavano's second year in pinstripes begins the way the first one ended: with him hurt.
Pavano was limited to 17 games (4-6; 4.77 ERA) last year, and didn't work after June 27 due to right rotator cuff tendinitis, a problem he believes stemmed from similar back pain he is experiencing now.
He didn't make an issue of it at that time, because he had just signed a four-year, $40 million contract. Until the back problem surfaced, the biggest question about Pavano was his shoulder that didn't require surgery.
Now, the 30-year-old's back has put him in jeopardy of not being ready by April 3.
"It's always a question," Torre said of Pavano being ready by Opening Day in Oakland. "You certainly don't want to get to this point of taking this much care and decide just because the season opener is coming that you have to hurry up and do something. When he is ready, we will be ready. And if it has to be after the season starts, we don't need a [fifth] starter for two weeks anyway."
Eager to start erasing last year's nightmare, Pavano was looking forward to yesterday's bullpen session and joining Jaret Wright, Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson, Chien-Ming Wang and Shawn Chacon in Group A tomorrow for the first workout at Legends Field.
"The plan was to throw off the mound," Pavano said, "but [Watkins'] orders were to get through some exercises and make this an ongoing thing going forward instead of going backward.
"It shouldn't be a problem. I feel my arm strength is ahead of schedule. I think the doctor said as we advance through the exercises that will dictate. There is a certain level to get to and move forward."
Asked if he had a timetable to return, Pavano said, "I don't think it's entirely up to me, but it's up to how I feel."
Pavano's session was caught by bullpen coach Joe Kerrigan and observed by scout Jim Benedict, who was with the Expos when Pavano was in Montreal.
Pavano, who predicted he would be ready for Opening Day, says he has learned from last year.
"That's why I am taking the right approach now," Pavano said. "Last year, I wanted to impress and try to be a hero, and look where it got me. We want to make sure it's ready when it's time to go."