The Yankees right-hander held big league competition hitless for his first five innings of the spring, but that string came to an end after one batter on Friday. Hughes allowed four runs and nine hits over 2 2/3 innings in the Yankees' 7-7 tie with the Reds at Ed Smith Stadium.
"The first few outings, I've been able to put my fastball where I wanted," Hughes said. "Today, it wasn't [there]. Sometimes I was missing by a little bit, but other times I missed by a lot. It was tough."
In his second big league start last season, Hughes had a no-hitter through 6 1/3 innings at Texas before a strained left hamstring knocked him out of action. The 21-year-old looked that good through his first two starts this spring against the Blue Jays and Twins, retiring 15 of the 17 batters he faced around two walks.
It was a different story at Sarasota, the same city where Chien-Ming Wang faced 10 Reds and could not escape the first inning eight days ago.
Hughes fared slightly better, but he was touched by Juan Castro and Ken Griffey Jr. for run-scoring hits in the first inning before recording an out. A flatter-than-normal mound may have something to do with the Yankees' continuing struggles here, Hughes said.
"He struggled with command of his fastball," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He figured out a way to get out of some innings later on with his changeup and getting ahead in the count. He just didn't have the command that he's had all spring. That's going to happen."
Hughes said that he normally can always turn to his fastball, even when his curveball and changeup abandon him for the day. Friday presented the opposite, as Hughes' changeup became a go-to pitch but he couldn't spot his heat.
"I think I just felt too good," Hughes said. "I was really overthrowing. The ball came out of my hand real good; I just wasn't throwing it for strikes."
Cincinnati added a third run against Hughes in the second inning, when Andy Green doubled, Jerry Hairston Jr. legged out an infield hit and Corey Patterson stroked a run-scoring single.
"I just wanted to get ahead," Hughes said. "Even the balls that weren't hit hard were getting through. It's just one of those days when you've got to battle through."
Hughes would reach his pitch count in the third after Green doubled on the righty's 66th offering, just following Javier Valentin's run-scoring hit to right.
Hughes may have had a hand in the Yankees' five-inning, four-pitcher rain-shortened perfect game over the Blue Jays in Dunedin on March 4, but the no-hit bid will have to wait for another day.
"It's better to get it out of the way now than in the regular season, I guess," Hughes said. "It was kind of a rough day."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.