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Hughes ahead of Yanks' spring curve

Hughes ahead of Yanks' spring curve

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The clock hadn't even started for most pitchers, but Phil Hughes was already punching in regularly by January, throwing bullpens at the Yankees' Spring Training complex in Tampa, Fla., and getting a jump on the year to come.

The extra effort seems to be paying off. The 21-year-old right-hander is among the most prepared players in Yankees camp.

"He's been as sharp as anyone," manager Joe Girardi said. "The command of all his pitches is a pat on the back to him, because he was here and working out during the winter. He was throwing sides before Spring Training started, and he looks really good at this point."

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Those interested in watching Hughes work on his mechanics didn't get much of an opportunity on Tuesday. He made just 10 pitches in a rain-shortened one-inning appearance against the Blue Jays at Knology Park, but he threw about 30 more under a covered bullpen during a delay.

That was fine with Hughes, who believes he got more out of the simulated conditions than the actual game, since he could work on specific areas and situations while maintaining maximum effort.

Hughes agrees with Girardi's assessment of the physical conditioning -- weeks ago, when Hughes began working out with Andy Pettitte in an early-morning program, it was Pettitte leading Hughes. Now, Hughes grins and says that he and Pettitte are about even, while Pettitte admits that Hughes has pushed ahead.

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"I think I'm a little ahead of most guys because of all the work I got done," Hughes said. "I just wanted to be as prepared as I could be. I wanted to be ready to go and not just get on a mound for the first time when everybody reported."

Hughes was 5-3 with a 4.46 ERA in 13 starts for the Yankees last year, a debut campaign that was interrupted by a strained left hamstring. His velocity didn't completely recover until close to the end of the season, when he logged the Yankees' only victory of the playoffs against the Indians.

"It was definitely the most disappointing season I've had playing baseball," Hughes said. "Any time you have a whole winter to think about that, it drives you to get back to where you were."

After an offseason in which Hughes was dangled in trade talks with the Twins for ace Johan Santana, Girardi believes that Hughes is happy to still be in pinstripes and looking forward to the challenges that are sure to be thrown his way.

"He's a very focused young man," Girardi said. "He wants it badly. He doesn't just want to be a starter -- he wants to be a top-notch starter, which is really encouraging."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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