Yankees deciding between Pavano, Hughes for Saturday's start

NEW YORK -- Belittled by New York tabloids that call him "American Idle," disparaged by some teammates for his lack of durability, Carl Pavano could return to the New York Yankees this weekend.

New York needs a fifth starter on Saturday at Baltimore, and with Joba Chamberlain and Dan Giese on the disabled list, the choice comes down to Pavano or Phil Hughes.

Mike Mussina said in spring training last year that Pavano must show his teammates he wants to pitch. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said teammates shouldn't be dubious of Pavano in his latest comeback attempt.

"If people have that type of attitude there, it's stupid," Cashman said Monday. "Everybody has issues and makes mistakes or has things to deal with. It's about turning the page and moving forward and concentrating on what's in front of you rather than concentrating on what's behind you."

Since signing a $39.95 million, four-year contract with the Yankees before the 2005 season, Pavano has made just 19 appearances, going 5-6. He's been a premed's survey course of broken body parts, sidelined by injuries to his shoulder, back, buttocks, elbow and ribs. He became a pinata for the New York media.

Perhaps because many had little faith he'd return this year, his latest comeback attempt has attracted little attention.

He missed the second half of the 2005 season and all of 2006, then made just two starts in April 2007 before hurting his elbow, an injury that required ligament replacement surgery in June last year. He started a minor league rehab assignment less than a month ago, on July 29, and has gone 1-1 with a 3.32 ERA in five starts with Class-A Charleston of the South Atlantic League and Double-A Trenton of the Eastern League.

In his last outing, he allowed one earned run and six hits in six innings Sunday at Reading, striking out six and walking one.

"He's had no setbacks in his rehab at all," Cashman said. "He's close to being ready for us, which is great."

Hughes, coming back from a broken rib, pitched Sunday for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and gave up five earned runs and eight hits in 3 2/3 innings at Lehigh Valley. Cashman said the choice of Saturday's starter will be announced by manager Joe Girardi.

Now 32, Pavano is likely to be eligible for free agency after this season, since it's hard to conceive the Yankees deciding to exercise his $13 million option rather than paying a $1.95 million buyout. The last time he hit the market, he was coming off a stellar season for Florida in which he went 18-8 with a 3.00 ERA.

He made 31 starts that year. He hasn't come close to a full season since.

Still, Cashman doesn't blame Pavano for all the injuries.

"He didn't intend for any of that to happen and certainly neither did we," he said. "He's never mailed it in. He just hasn't stayed healthy, so it's been unfortunate for us."