Hughes extends Yanks' run of rotation excellence

Hughes extends Yanks' run of rotation excellence

Hughes extends Yanks' run of rotation excellence
NEW YORK -- As they prepare to welcome back a fixture to their rotation, the Yankees may be discovering that their current starters can hold their own quite well.

Phil Hughes became the latest Yankees starter to impress on the team's homestand, pitching 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball in a 6-2 win over Seattle on Saturday. When Andy Pettitte takes the mound Sunday in his first start since 2010, he will be in position to finish off a sweep of the Mariners.

After appearing to be in danger of heading to the bullpen to make room for Pettitte, Hughes has responded with back-to-back strong starts after starting the season 1-4. Saturday's win came on the heels of a 6 2/3-innng outing in Kansas City in which Hughes allowed three runs and picked up the win.

"I don't think, really, there's been a turning point," Hughes (3-4) said. "It's been a process overall to get myself right. Sometimes you can hang on to momentum and stuff like that when you're pitching well. It's hard to get any worse than the beginning of the year."

After Hughes' outing, Yankees starters are 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA through the first five games of the homestand. The team's only blemish in the Bronx this week came when David Robertson blew a save and wasted a 1-0 ninth-inning lead in Wednesday night's loss to the Rays.

"It was a good day," Hughes said. "I probably didn't have my best fastball or my best curveball, but my changeup really allowed me to get out of some jams there and make some good pitches when I was behind in counts."

Hughes started the game with a nine-pitch first inning and needed only 35 pitches to get through the first three frames. He ran into some trouble in the fourth, when he allowed a one-out single to Ichiro Suzuki and then walked former Yankee Jesus Montero. But he recovered to get a popout and a strikeout and strand both in a 28-pitch inning.

"Him and Russell did a really good job of mixing his curveball and his changeup in," manager Joe Girardi said of Hughes and catcher Russell Martin. "Fastball inside to hitters, moving it around, I thought they did a really good job."

Seattle entered the game ranked 29th in the Major Leagues with a .289 team on-base percentage. Hughes took advantage, striking out four and walking one before a pair of two-out singles chased him from the game in the eighth inning. Saturday's start marked only the third time since the start of the 2010 season that Hughes had recorded an out in the eighth inning.

The Mariners' only run off Hughes came on a Mike Carp homer with two out in the seventh inning. Carp was initially ruled to have hit another homer in the ninth, a two-run shot, but instant replay revealed that the ball hit off the top of the right-field wall, and it was reversed to an RBI double.

Hughes' most successful stretch as a Yankee came during his time as a reliever in 2009, and he has repeatedly said that he is trying to take what he calls a "bullpen mentality" to the mound as a starter.

"Be aggressive, but there's smart aggressive, too," Hughes said. "Make good pitches, make smart pitches, but do everything aggressively. Use however many pitches I have, and really make the most of them."

The Yankees' bats gave Hughes an early cushion with some two-out magic. With one out in the second against former Yankee Hector Noesi, Mark Teixeira doubled down the right-field line -- and over the extreme shift employed by the Mariners. After a Nick Swisher flyout, Raul Ibanez (to left) and Martin (to the wall in center) hit back-to-back doubles for the Yankees' first two runs. Jayson Nix, making his first start at shortstop this season, homered into the first row in right field for his first 2012 hit. The homer, which put the Yankees up 4-0, snapped an 0-for-20 skid dating back to last season.

"Love it," Girardi said of scoring with two outs. "Those are the runs that kill teams. Those are the runs that are big for you and hurt other teams, and we got them today."

"You know that it's pretty short there to right field," Nix said. "I wasn't sure, I knew I hit it pretty good. That one was my first to right field here, and it felt great."

Derek Jeter, the designated hitter for the day, had two hits. His second, a single in the eighth inning, was the 3,141st hit in his career. That ties him with Tony Gwynn for 17th place on the all-time list. Robin Yount sits at 16th, with 3,142.

Ibanez, who hit the go-ahead homer in Friday's win, struck again in the fourth Saturday. He turned around a 3-2 Noesi fastball and deposited it over the center-field wall. Ibanez, given more playing time following Brett Gardner's elbow injury, has responded with timely hits.

"You're always looking for the fastball," said Ibanez, whose double came on a changeup. "You're trying not to do too much. You get to a 3-2 count -- he can throw anything at that count."

"His RBIs have been huge for us," Girardi said. "Even the tack-on run, you want to continue to tack on runs. Those are important. Raul's swinging great."

As happy as he is with Ibanez, Girardi is probably more pleased with Hughes' turnaround and the righty's progress after a rough start.

"There are a couple of things I can clean up," Hughes said. "Obviously, I'm never 100-percent satisfied with everything. But as long as I keep getting better and able to go deeper into the game, then I'm happy with that."

Thomas Boorstein is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter at @MLBoorstein. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.