Hughes helps Yanks hold ground in AL East race

Hughes helps Yanks hold ground in AL East race

Hughes helps Yanks hold ground in AL East race
NEW YORK -- He has a new cutter/slider hybrid that he is fooling around with, and also seems to have a greater understanding of how to pitch in Yankee Stadium. Whatever the reason, Phil Hughes is doing encouraging things for the Yankees.

Hughes turned in another strong start at home, spinning seven innings of quality ball, and Nick Swisher continued his hot August performance as the Yankees rebounded from Monday's tough loss with a 2-1 victory over the Blue Jays in the Bronx on Tuesday.

"It hasn't been the ideal year, but I've been able to bounce back from a few rough ones and give us a chance to win, which is all I'm trying to do," Hughes said.

After the Yankees were one strike away from a victory on Monday, only to see Rafael Soriano cough up the lead, the closer came back with purpose and shut down the Blue Jays for his 34th save in 37 chances.

"He looked like there was a little anger," catcher Russell Martin said. "He took it out the right way. Some guys that get angry kind of lose control, but he was in control."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he believed Soriano had some of his best stuff of the season, striking out two in the ninth, and Soriano agreed, relying heavily on his fastball.

"I know [about] the things that happened last night," Soriano said. "I said, 'All right, tomorrow [will] be a better day. I try to do the best I can."

Swisher collected his 22nd RBI of the month with a third-inning single off Toronto starter Ricky Romero, and with a weakened Yankees lineup behind him, Hughes needed to make every run count.

"It's kind of the same situation when CC [Sabathia] and Andy [Pettitte] were gone," Hughes said. "There's pressure on us to step up and do a good job. That's certainly the circumstance now, with a couple of our big bats out of the lineup."

The right-hander has been excellent at home of late, going 6-0 with a 1.62 ERA in his last seven starts in the Bronx since June 26.

Hughes credited a new pitch as a new weapon after his four-hit performance, one which he has been toying with in the bullpen after recently scrapping his cutter.

"I was working on a little cutter-slider hybrid in the bullpen, and figured this would be a good team to use that against, with a lot of right-handed bats in that lineup," Hughes said. "I threw it in a couple good spots, and got some outs with it."

Hughes recorded his fifth and final strikeout on his last pitch before yielding to David Robertson for the eighth inning, an 80-mph offering that buzzed past Adeiny Hechavarria.

"Just a different look," Hughes said. "I was talking to Alex [Rodriguez] after the game, and he said a bad cutter is a BP fastball, whereas a bad slider at least does something."

Second baseman Robinson Cano bailed Hughes out of a tough spot in the sixth with a highlight-reel defensive play, snaring Yunel Escobar's liner and smoothly throwing to third base, doubling off Colby Rasmus.

"It's an incredible play," Girardi said. "I thought he had no chance at third, but it's an incredible play at a crucial time. I wasn't even sure if he was going to catch it to begin with, and then you get the double play, it's icing on the cake."

Romero was dealt his 11th consecutive losing decision for the Jays, touched first by Swisher in the third inning on a run-scoring hit that drove in Jayson Nix.

"That's a tough Yankees lineup every time, they take their pitches and they work the count as good as anybody in this league," Romero said. "I was in the zone and making them swing the bats. When you're able to do that against a team like this, and keep the ball down, they get themselves out."

Swisher has batted .341 with six homers and 21 RBIs since being moved to the No. 2 spot in the lineup on Aug. 8, and Girardi said that he expects Swisher will stay there even after Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira return from injuries.

"I'm just trying to put up quality at-bats every time," Swisher said. "I've been a swingman my whole career, and I've bounced up and down the lineup. To kind of find a home and know exactly every day where I'm going to hit, that's a good feeling to have."

Steve Pearce, playing his first game for the Yankees and batting cleanup as a designated hitter after being acquired from the Astros on Monday, opened the fourth inning with a walk and advanced on a wild pitch before scoring on Curtis Granderson's sacrifice fly.

The Yankees might have had more, but second baseman Mike McCoy made a sparkling diving stop on Cano's grounder to end the third inning, saving a run.

Hughes made the support work, cruising until the fifth, when Hechavarria connected for his first Major League home run. Hughes has surrendered a career-high 30 blasts this season.

The home run has been something of a running joke, in that it wouldn't be a Hughes start without a home run; fly ball pitchers in Yankee Stadium tend to have that problem. But if he keeps holding the damage to one run, the Yankees -- who maintained a 3 1/2-game lead over the Orioles in the American League East -- like their chances.

"If you're going to make it to the playoffs, and you're going to make any noise in the playoffs, you have to have that," Girardi said. "That's the bottom line. The teams that pitch the best are usually the teams that are left over in October."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.