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Updated: July 17th, 2010 10:09pm
Pelissero: Twins' struggling starters can learn plenty from Pavano's cool

Pelissero: Twins' struggling starters can learn plenty from Pavano's cool

© AP 2010
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by Tom Pelissero
1500ESPN.com

MINNEAPOLIS -- Drew Butera channeled Carl Pavano before Saturday's game at Target Field, shaving down his scruff into what passed for a Class-AAA version of Pavano's now-trademark moustache.

And after Pavano finished off the Chicago White Sox, getting Carlos Quentin to ground out to shortstop with the would-be tying run on third base, the Minnesota Twins' veteran right-hander got an enthusiastic embrace that sent his young catcher's mask flying.

"Complete game -- yeah, why not?" Butera said after the Twins' 3-2 win. "What better way to show love than a little moustache hug, right?"

A suggestion to the rest of the Twins' struggling rotation: start channeling Pavano yourselves, and not with a Mach-3.

Pavano's 104-pitch, nine-inning disposal of the American League Central front-runners was a study in efficiency.

He wasted little time between pitches. He threw 79 strikes. He even waved off trainers after taking an Omar Vizquel smash off the left wrist in the sixth inning -- getting the next two hitters while still trying to get feeling back into his forearm.

Pavano sat with Butera during Friday's game to discuss Chicago's lineup, and the two were in such rhythm on Saturday that Butera barely showed his face on the mound until Vizquel's leadoff double in the ninth brought out pitching coach Rick Anderson.

"It's crucial," Pavano said, "because you can't come out to the mound every inning and -- like we've been talking about, momentum -- you kind of break up the momentum of the game and the team."

Of course, it's a lot easier to be efficient when you're not getting shelled as Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and Scott Baker have been of late.

It also doesn't hurt to be opposing Chicago left-hander Mark Buehrle, whose famously fast pace contributed heavily to wrapping Saturday's sprint in 1 hour, 52 minutes.

But Pavano's outing was a portrait of the cool and intelligence that has him throwing some of his best baseball at age 34.

White Sox slugger Paul Konerko drove in both of Chicago's runs to give him 66 RBIs -- good for third in the AL. He singled to right field on an outside fastball that arrived up and over the plate in the first inning, then blasted a home run in the fourth on an inside changeup.

So, what was Pavano's approach with one out and a runner on third in the ninth? Changeup away, fastball in, changeup away, and Konerko was gone on three pitches.

Butera hopped up and pumped his fist twice, even though there was one out to go.

"Yeah I was (excited). I was," Butera said. "That's a big out."

Not many starting pitchers work out of jams in the ninth inning. Not many starting pitchers even get the chance to do it -- one hit's usually enough to get the hook, but not Pavano on Saturday.

Manager Ron Gardenhire got up Matt Guerrier and Brian Duensing in the bullpen, but the lead was Pavano's to lose.

"He was throwing the ball really well and it was still coming out of his hand really well," Gardenhire said. "He was on a mission."

Success breeds confidence, and Pavano has both right now. He's 6-0 with a 2.74 earned-run average in his past nine starts and has four complete games -- more than anyone except Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez.

"He's really knowledgeable at picking up things (about) hitters," Butera said. "What better way for me to get to know these guys than to sit next to him and talk to him?"

Perhaps all Blackburn, Slowey and Baker need is their own personal sit-downs with the Twins' unlikely ace.

OK, maybe not, but it's better than a dugout full of moustaches.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Tom | @TomPelissero | Tom Pelissero
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