New York Yankees starter Phil Hughes pitched today for the first time in an organized game since April and he didn't disappoint. The right-hander, who was diagnosed with "dead-arm" two months ago, threw 3 2/3 solid innings against minor leaguers in an intra-squad game at the Yankees minor league complex and struck out six while allowing two hits.
Hughes' fastball topped out at 93 mph and was consistently throwing in the low-90's. He retired the first eight batters. Good news for Hughes and the depleted Yankees pitching staff.
This rotation may be as reliable as Harold Camping and getting nearly as old. While the bullpen is shaky and has more injured players than Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark; where does Hughes fit in when he comes back to Yankee Stadium?
Hughes underwent a battery of tests in April and, truthfully, hasn't been the same since last year's All-Star break. Hughes' breakout 2010 season was still memorable and he finished 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA. He slumped a little down the stretch when it looked like he was emerging as one of the best young hurlers in the majors, but never looked good in 2011. This season he is 0-1 with a fat 10.94 ERA.
Now, with Bartolo Colon on the 15-day DL, the $35 million Rafael Soriano looking at another 4-5 weeks and Joba Chamberlain out for the season; it opens up the quandary of where to put Hughes when he returns. Chances are, it will be about the same time as Colon and way before Soriano.
Right now, Dave Robertson has played the part of set-up man with the flair of Houdini, but does manager Joe Girardi continue to bite his nails and Mariano Rivera grind his teeth every time Robertson loads the bases and goes to his great escape routine? Boone Logan is just a mop-up pitcher right now and Girardi has to be wondering which pitcher who can get an opposing batter's knees knocking in the eighth. Hughes could be the man.
Hughes is scheduled to leave Tampa and is scheduled to pitch for Class A Staten Island on Sunday. Physically, the rested Hughes is getting closer to Yankee Stadium but still has a ways to go.
The 24 year-old Hughes knows it's a long process but is thankful surgery wasn't an option so far.
"It [his arm] felt good; a lot better," said Hughes after this morning's game. "I thought the ball was coming out pretty good and that's all I can ask for at this point. I'm just trying to build it up and make sure I don't have any set backs."
The Yankees have said this morning's outing was technically not a rehab start and is just another way of getting Hughes' pitch count up. It will take about three or four rehab starts for Hughes to strengthen his arm and build up his stamina.
If Colon returns from his strained hamstring injury on schedule, the five-man starting rotation should be intact. That still leaves room for a steady set-up man like Hughes for a few weeks. A perfect opportunity to limit Hughes' pitch count until he builds up his arm and Soriano returns--and that's no guarantee.
For the time being, Hughes seems happy to be throwing in a game situation again.
"Really, until I get to the 100-pitch mark, there's no way of knowing [when I'll rejoin New York]," said the optimistic Hughes. "I'm hoping it won't be much longer, but it's kind of out of my hands."
Girardi must weigh his options after Hughes does return. What will be the former-number three starter's role? It seems logical to slowly work him in from the bullpen and allow him to get back to form.