"It was never like I was really comfortable out there. I was always working out of tough situations," Hughes said. "That's what led to the high pitch count, not being able to get consecutive 1-2-3 innings under my belt. I felt like I had good stuff today, but it was never easy."
It has been a familiar storyline for Hughes, a fly-ball pitcher whose skill set now plays as ill-equipped for service in the Bronx. Saturday's outing raised Hughes' home ERA to 6.17 in 12 starts this year, compared to a 3.67 ERA in 10 road starts.
Manager Joe Girardi offered a lukewarm vote of confidence after the game, saying that he envisions Hughes sticking in the rotation because the Yankees do not appear to have choices who could slide in as replacements at this time.
"Right now, I don't know if we have any options," Girardi said. "So we need him to pitch well. That's the bottom line."
Lyle Overbay's two-run homer in the fifth inning accounted for the Yankees' only damage off Tigers right-hander Anibal Sanchez, who permitted four hits over seven sharp innings, striking out eight and walking one.
"We've got to give a lot of credit to Sanchez," said Yanks cleanup hitter Alfonso Soriano, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. "He pitched a very good game. He's got very good stuff."
Girardi fielded a Yankees lineup that did not include Alex Rodriguez as he attempts to keep the veteran third baseman fresh in this unorthodox season, and he watched the Tigers offense start early against Hughes.
Jackson tripled on Hughes' third pitch of the game and scored on a Hunter sacrifice fly, and Cabrera pounced on an inside fastball for his 35th homer of the year in the third inning.
"I would have liked for it to be up a little more, but it was well in off the plate," Hughes said. "Just for him to be able to keep that fair is unreal, and to be able to put it out of the ballpark is another thing. That's who he is."
Even Tigers manager Jim Leyland said he had to be impressed by the continuing exploits of Cabrera, who improved to 14-for-25 lifetime facing Hughes.
"I don't know if myself and the coaches appreciate enough what we're seeing," Leyland said. "It's hard to believe, really, what we're seeing, to be honest with you. This is my 50th year [in pro ball]. I don't get too giddy about anything, but I'm not sure I've seen what's going on last year and this year. I'm seeing things that are mind-boggling."
Girardi yanked Hughes before he had a chance to see Cabrera again, and his outing -- trailing, 3-0, at time of his exit -- still would have come up short against Sanchez, who turned in his fifth straight start of at least six innings and two runs or fewer.
But New York's bullpen turned a relatively close game into a rout, as Preston Claiborne and Joba Chamberlain both struggled in relief.
After Jackson went deep to left off a hanging Hughes slider in the fifth, Claiborne was unable to slam the door, as Victor Martinez slapped a RBI double and Don Kelly ripped a two-run single to center.
Torii Hunter launched a three-run homer off Chamberlain in mop-up duty, a blast into the right-field bullpen that expanded the Tigers' lead to seven runs.
"He's been doing it for a long time," Chamberlain said. "That was the one bad pitch I made in the inning and two-thirds, and he made me pay for it. You can't change it. You've obviously got to make a better pitch right there."
Girardi said that was a common thread for the Yankees, not making enough good pitches, and that extended to Hughes. He has lost nine of his last 11 decisions since May 15, going 2-9 with a 5.29 ERA over the stretch, and has allowed at least one homer in 10 of those starts.
"I think it's just consistency. That's probably the biggest difference for him," Girardi said. "He's worked very hard in between starts and tried to fix things, but it hasn't happened on a consistent basis."
Hughes said that his issue this time around was getting in too many long counts -- he had 54 pitches through two innings, finishing with 99 in all.
The Yankees added a ninth-inning run on Overbay's RBI single off Jeremy Bonderman, but that hardly eased concerns about New York's situation as a whole. The fading Bombers are 7-15 in their last 22 games and have not won consecutive contests since July 10-12.
"It's just been a grind, and something that's tough to live with every day," Hughes said. "I'm going to work as hard as I can on the side to figure something out. That part of it won't stop. I just have to keep grinding and find my way out of this, one way or another."