BRADENTON, Fla. - Phil Hughes is setting the bar intentionally low for the pitch he's been trying to add to his arsenal since he was a teenager.
"I'm not looking for it to be anything outstanding," Hughes said Tuesday of his changeup. "Just usable."
Hughes is so used to discussing the topic at this time of year that at the end of a nearly 10-minute session with reporters, the good-natured 24-year-old joked about the line of questioning.
"World record if there's one more question about a changeup," he said.
In the Yankees' 2-0 loss to the Pirates Tuesday at McKechnie Field, Hughes pitched two scoreless innings, allowing a leadoff walk and nothing else.
Manager Joe Girardi said for Hughes' first time out, he was "happy," although he thought the righthander was "up a little bit" with his fastball.
"I thought he threw some pretty decent changeups," Girardi said.
Hughes said he threw three and will throw more as his innings increase. And if they stay at decent to good quality, he'll be fine with that.
"I don't feel like it's going to be a big strikeout pitch, or a James Shields-like changeup," Hughes said of the Rays' righthander. "I don't have the ability to take the speed off the ball like he does. But I think it can be usable."
The key is taking it with him into the regular season. Hughes thought he left spring training last year with a good changeup, but promptly stopped using it.
He said not throwing it early last season cost him during the second half, when he struggled. Hughes started 2010 5-0 with a 1.38 ERA and went 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA in the first half, before fading to 7-6 with a 4.90 ERA in the second half, finishing 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA. He beat the Twins in Game 3 of the ALDS but pitched poorly and lost both of his starts against the Rangers in the ALCS.
"The first half last year, things were going so well and I wasn't throwing it and I figured I didn't need it," Hughes said. "When it came down to the second half when I did need it, I kept trying to throw harder or throw more curveballs. And I didn't go to it until the very end of the year where I knew I needed to make a change because what I was doing wasn't working."
Although he's discussed mostly his changeup since arriving at the Yankees' minor- league complex Feb. 7, developing the pitch is far from his only goal this spring.
"I think there's like a five-way tie for first," Hughes said. "Fastball command's always up there, my curveball, I wasn't happy with it, especially in the second half. My cutter wasn't as good in the second half. All those pitches I need to get going."
He said he's taken some of new pitching coach Larry Rothschild's tips about the changeup.
"Not to get too aggressive with it, just pop your hand at the end," Hughes said. "Overall, it's been consistently down in the zone and pretty good. Hopefully, that can translate into April."
But he knows people have heard that before.
"I'm not going to give up on it because it's not easy," he said.
Hughes smiled. "This is something that's been going on a long time," he said. "If I can get it a little bit better every year, hopefully it will be a decent pitch by the time I'm 40."