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Hughes, Yanks happy with latest effort

Hughes, Yanks happy with latest effort

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Phil Hughes thought his latest outing was "one thousand times better," and Yankees manager Joe Girardi wasn't about to question those mathematics.

What the Yankees do know is that Hughes, their 21-year-old ace-in-training, finally looks more like the pitcher they're counting on to help eat innings in their rotation. With just one turn remaining until Spring Training turns to the real deal, Monday's effort was a welcome sight.

"I'm ready to go," Hughes said. "One more and we're going."

Hughes held the Phillies to three runs and three hits in five innings under the lights at Legends Field on Monday, making his sixth appearance and fifth start of the spring.

There was only one pitch he would have liked to have back, a fat fastball that Pedro Feliz hit over the wall for a two-run homer. Other than that, Hughes said he felt his selection was all systems go.

"I needed to get my fastball back where it needed to be and fix a couple things with my mechanics," said Hughes, who walked two and struck out six. "I feel like I did that. That was more encouraging than the hits or runs."

Hughes has said that he always tends to get hit around a little bit during Spring Training, but it was especially noticeable this month.

Part of that reason, of course, is that Hughes' previous late spring experiences have come across the street at the Himes Avenue Minor League complex, out of the spotlight and the media glare.

Regardless, after Hughes had looked exceptional early in camp by twirling six no-hit innings, his most recent lines were more bumpy.

Hughes allowed seven runs (six earned) under difficult conditions on March 19 against the Pirates, dealing with an estimated 30-mph wind blowing out to left field at Bradenton's McKechnie Field. He had allowed 11 runs (10 earned) combined over his last 6 2/3 innings coming into Monday's start against Philadelphia, but seemed to put those troubles behind him.

"He had been a little bit off, but I think he was extremely sharp tonight," Girardi said. "He had good command of all of his pitches -- his changeup was good, curveball was good, slider was good. Everything was good."

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The key, Hughes said, was finding a way to throw his fastball for strikes. There is still room for improvement -- Hughes finished five innings with 86 pitches under his belt, and with only 54 strikes -- and pitching coach Dave Eiland suggested that his ratio could and should improve.

If Hughes could chop five wasted pitches off his first and last innings, Eiland said, he could have worked into the sixth. Hughes absorbed the suggestion with interest.

"You've just got to keep throwing strikes," he said. "A lot of times you can control whether you throw strikes or not. Sometimes they're going to foul balls off and there's nothing you can do about it. Sometimes it's just the way it goes."

These are the tweaks the Yankees will continue to make with Hughes, who is scheduled to throw about 75 pitches in his final appearance of the spring on Saturday at Dolphin Stadium. His next turn would be April 4 against the Rays in New York, and the Yankees have faith that Hughes will be ready.

"Part of that is his demeanor, but part of it is the experience he went through last year," Girardi said. "Pitching in the month of September and pitching in the playoffs, I think it really helped him out."

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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