Originally posted on Fox Sports North  |  Last updated 5/15/12
MINNEAPOLIS Before Monday's start, it was revealed that Minnesota Twins right-hander Carl Pavano had inflammation in his right shoulder after having an MRI performed after his last start. Given that news -- not major, but certainly worth noting -- all eyes were on the 36-year-old Pavano on Monday when he faced first-place Cleveland. The big question, then, after Pavano and the Twins fell 5-4 to the Indians was how his shoulder was feeling after throwing just 72 pitches in six innings. The short answer: good, not great. "It's been going on long enough that I can compare five, six weeks ago what it felt like and it definitely feels like it's made improvement," Pavano said. "Not the type of improvement I'd like, but it's definitely made an improvement and hasn't gotten worse. You just try to stick to that and just keep grinding it out." That's exactly what Pavano had to do Monday -- grind it out for six innings. He cruised through a perfect seven-pitch first inning before giving up a leadoff double in the second. But Pavano didn't really run into trouble until the fourth inning, when he surrendered a pair of runs. Travis Hafner's groundout to second and Carlos Santana's sacrifice fly each drove in a run as Pavano and the Twins fell behind 2-1. One inning later, Pavano made a few mistakes. Jose Lopez led off the fifth with a double to left field. Four pitches later, Casey Kotchman turned on a changeup from Pavano for a two-run blast to right field that put Cleveland up 4-1. "That one inning kind of happened real quick, the two runs and then I hung that changeup for the home run," Pavano said of the fifth. "Other than that, I thought I commanded the ball pretty well. It's tough to put your team behind four runs and get a win." Pavano's night lasted just one more inning, as he got through a scoreless sixth. For the third start in a row, though, Pavano threw less than 80 pitches. Normally an innings-eater -- he threw 95, 101, 97 and 110 pitches, respectively, in his first four starts -- Pavano has been limited as of late as his shoulder continues to be a concern. Prior to Monday, his last two starts lasted just 69 and 62 pitches. "I think it was just a move today to try to get me a breather and get a little stronger," Pavano said. "I think you start getting your pitch counts up, where I'm at shoulder-wise, it does you more harm than good right now if you're starting to fatigue." One encouraging sign for Pavano on Monday was an increase in his velocity. Prior to Monday's start, Pavano's fastball was averaging just 86.1 mph, according to PitchFx data. That's over 2-12 mph slower than it was a season ago. Part of that has been due to the lingering shoulder inflammation. But Pavano touched 89 mph on the radar gun Monday and was consistently hitting 88 mph through the first several innings. That dipped off a bit the deeper he got into the game, however, as he was hitting 85-86 mph in the fifth and sixth innings. "I think that's as high as I've been all year, so I think that's encouraging in a sense that that's what we're looking for, strength and trying to get it stronger," Pavano said of his velocity. "I think that's definitely a good sign. I think a really good sign is if I'm consistently there. It's going to take time, there's no doubt about it." Since joining Minnesota in the middle of the 2009 season, Pavano has been a model of consistency as far as staying healthy. He pitched 221 innings in 2010 and 222 last season -- the only Twins pitcher to surpass 200 innings in either season. With several other starters struggling, the Twins need Pavano to remain steady. Keeping him healthy will be a key to that. "We know what he's going through right now," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "He's not a guy that's going to say, 'I want out of here.' He's not going to do it. So we have to guard him until we can get him out." For now, Pavano will do what he's done since joining the Twins -- continue to take the mound every time his turn in the rotation comes up and go about his business without any complaints. "As a pitcher, your arm doesn't always feel 100 percent," he said. "But with what I'm dealing with, there's days when it bothers me more than others. I've been able to get through it, and on my fifth day I've been able to go out there and compete, that's the most important thing." Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.
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