Hughes to make first start on April 15

Hughes to make first start on April 15

TAMPA, Fla. -- Phil Hughes may be breaking camp as the Yankees' fifth starter, but the right-hander can't bid farewell to spring just yet.

With several off-days reducing the need for his services early in the year, the Yankees have decided that Hughes' first start will be on April 15 against the Angels in New York. Until then, he will be on the club's active roster and pitch in a pair of extended spring games in Tampa.

"It gives me time to work on some more things -- basically like two extra spring starts," Hughes said. "It'll be fine. I'm looking forward to the 15th. It's the first step of this year, and I'm looking forward to starting off well and keeping it going."

Hughes, 23, said that the decisions were what he expected and not a surprise. Hughes is slated to pitch his first extended spring game on Monday and then join the Yankees in Boston for the second and third games of the season.

He'll then take the team charter back to Tampa, hurling another extended spring game on April 10 -- a contest that will occur while the Yankees visit the Rays at Tropicana Field -- before he flies north with the club to New York.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that the plan made sense, because the club is also dealing with an innings limitation issue with Hughes, hoping to hold him to between 160-170 frames.

"We don't really need a fifth starter for a while, but we don't want to hold off too long," Girardi said. "He'll throw, but you can manage a game. Let's say he goes 25 pitches, you can stop the inning. You can do a lot of different things where you can't do it in a real game."

Hughes will throw 90-100 pitches on Monday and then back off to the neighborhood of 70 pitches for April 10, which would put him on equal footing with the rest of the Yankees' rotation by the time the Angels get to town.

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Girardi said that the Yankees considered sending Hughes to the Minor Leagues and carrying an extra reliever until he was needed, but this was the avenue the organization chose for several reasons.

"There's a situation that could arise where you might need him to make a spot start or you get rained out and they want to play a split doubleheader," Girardi said. "That sort of thing."

"Obviously [carrying a reliever] is something you could do, but there could be a situation where we say, 'Hey, you know what? We need you.' If you send [Hughes] down, then you don't have him. You could get into a 16- or 17-inning game one night."

Behind the strength of an improving changeup, Hughes beat out a cast of contenders that included Joba Chamberlain, Alfredo Aceves, Sergio Mitre and the since-released Chad Gaudin to leave camp as New York's fifth starter.

The extra outings under extended spring conditions should give Hughes even more opportunities to hone the offspeed offering, which he believes will make him a markedly better pitcher -- especially compared to his 2008 version, when he was reduced to just a fastball and curveball due to an injury. He later added the cutter and has been impressed with the progress on the changeup.

"I'd still like to improve on it, even if I have to go out there and maybe throw some in counts where I normally wouldn't do it," Hughes said. "I feel like I still need that comfort level, where it's going to come later in the year.

"Just because it's my last start of the spring, I don't think I'm done working on it. It's never a finished process. I still feel like I can mature and throw my pitches in different scenarios, different counts. Now, with four pitches, I can really pitch."

Hughes turned in his last spring start on Wednesday, hurling 4 2/3 innings of three-run six-hit ball against the Twins at George M. Steinbrenner Field, walking one and striking out five.

Hughes completed Grapefruit League action 0-4 with a 4.35 ERA in six games (three starts), allowing 10 runs and 20 hits in 20 2/3 innings. He walked seven and struck out 20, serving up five homers.

"I actually felt like I threw the ball a lot better my last three times out, which is kind of what you expect," Hughes said. "You're getting tuned up. My fastball command today was the best it's been, improving every start out. I feel like I'm right on track."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.