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06/29/11 4:20 PM ET

Solid rehab start has Hughes closer to return

TRENTON, N.J. -- After throwing an efficient 6 1/3 innings of three-hit ball in an encouraging rehab start for Double-A Trenton on Wednesday, Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes took one step closer to returning to the Majors.

In his third rehab start since being placed on the disabled list on April 19 with right shoulder inflammation, Hughes was charged with one earned run in an 88-pitch outing in the Thunder's 3-2 win against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats.

"I felt comfortable out there and my mechanics were in sync," Hughes said.

Hughes faced the minimum number of batters through the first 4 2/3 innings, including retiring the first 11 Fisher Cats he faced. He walked two batters, fanned eight and threw 61 strikes on the day.

"I wasn't perfect by any means today, but I was throwing a lot more strikes than last time out, and that was a positive sign," Hughes said. "I made them swing the bat. I didn't want to fall into deep counts, and I wanted to make sure I faced a lot of hitters and went deep into the game."

After giving up a single to Fisher Cats designated hitter Travis d'Arnaud and walking first baseman Mike McDade in the seventh, Hughes left to a standing ovation from the Waterfront Park crowd, which included Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman. Hughes was charged with his only run after he was pulled, when Ricardo Nanita hit a ground-rule double off Trenton pitcher Cory Arbiso to plate d'Arnaud.

Hughes didn't give up a hit until the fourth, when New Hampshire center fielder Anthony Gose singled to right field. Gose was later thrown out trying to steal second.

The 2010 All-Star pitcher was placed on the disabled list April 19 after experiencing diminished velocity on his fastball in his first three starts of the season. He went 0-1 with a 13.94 ERA.

On Wednesday, Hughes looked to be back in his 2010 form, when he was 18-8 and had a 4.19 ERA. Scouts had the 25-year-old righty clocked at 93 mph consistently throughout the game, topping out at 94 mph. His cutter was in the 91-94 mph range.

But even more encouraging for Hughes was his crisp command, especially early in the game.

"My last two outings, stuff-wise, have been good," Hughes said. "It was the command that faltered a little bit. I didn't necessarily think about what the radar gun said after every pitch."

Trenton manager Tony Franklin said before the game that he was expecting Hughes to throw 85-90 pitches.

Last Friday, Hughes tossed 72 pitches in 3 1/3 innings in his second rehab start, including 42 strikes. He gave up one run on three hits, striking out three and walking two batters.

The former Yankees first-round pick began his rehab assignment June 19 with Class A Staten Island, throwing 61 pitches over 4 1/3 innings. He allowed three hits and one run while walking one and fanning seven.

Hughes remains uncertain about the remainder of his rehab assignment, but said he is "absolutely" sure that he is ready to face Major League batters in his next start.

"From what I've heard, [I'll make] one more [rehab start]," Hughes said. "But I'll have to show that I'm ready to go after that."

Jay Lee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.