Hughes dominant in relief
Throws 1-2-3 inning in first appearance from 'pen in 2009
NEW YORK -- Before Monday's game, a 5-3 win over Tampa Bay, Yankees manager Joe Girardi stressed that it was important to get Phil Hughes into a game out of the bullpen before he became rusty. Preferably, that appearance would come in a blowout, when Hughes could acclimate himself to relief work.
A few hours later, Hughes found himself pitching in a one-run game in the seventh inning against the division-rival Rays, trying to secure a series win before the Yankees travel to Boston for a crucial set with the Red Sox.
So much for the plan.
Hughes worked a dominant 1-2-3 frame in his first relief outing since being moved to the bullpen last week to make room for Chien-Ming Wang in the rotation. Hughes induced B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford to ground out, then struck out Evan Longoria. He threw 11 pitches.
It was the first time Hughes had pitched out of the 'pen in a regular-season game. He made two relief appearances in the 2007 American League Division Series against the Indians and picked up the Yankees' lone win of the series by throwing 3 2/3 scoreless frames in Game 3.
"Any time you go in there, you want to do well, and you want to have some shut-down innings, especially in a game like this, when we need to take the series," Hughes said. "With a one-run lead, it was nice to get in there."
Hughes had not pitched in a game since May 31, and the rest seemed to serve him well. His fastball was consistently between 94 mph and 95 mph, despite hovering in the 92-94 range in his starts this season. Girardi said afterward that he wasn't sure if had ever seen Hughes touch 95 mph in a game.
But it wasn't just his fastball that was working. Hughes had his whole arsenal available, and he showed it.
"He threw all of his pitches, he threw a cutter, he threw some curveballs, he mixed in all his pitches," Girardi said. "I think he approached it the right way. He had all his pitches going."
After Hughes' strong inning, Girardi gave the ball to lefty reliever Phil Coke against the middle of Tampa Bay's lineup, including first baseman Carlos Pena. Despite how well Hughes pitched, Girardi said there was not much consideration for leaving him in for the eighth.
"We talked about Pena. He's been much better against right-handers than left-handers," Girardi said. "If we get a couple of runs, we may leave Hughesy in there, but if not, that's Cokey's job, to get the left-handers. And to get a tough left-hander like that, that's Cokey's job."
The next question is what comes next for Hughes. He has been a starter for his entire career, and he is not accustomed to working on short rest or on consecutive days. Girardi does not expect Hughes to be available until at least Wednesday.
But with the problems the Yankees have had this season bridging from the starters to closer Mariano Rivera, Hughes may fit the bill. Hughes said that he would be willing to fill any role, including that of the everyday eighth-inning man. Girardi expressed similar confidence.
"We feel really good about his stuff," Girardi said. "He's throwing the ball pretty well for us. I'm not going to be afraid to use him at any time."
Jared Diamond is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.