DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The more all involved talk, the less likely it appears that Phil Hughes will be ready to take his first regular-season turn in the rotation.
And Hughes, out since Feb. 18 with two bulging discs in his upper back, is OK with that, even though his back has gotten better and he's been pain-free for nearly two weeks.
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And Hughes, who made it through Thursday's 26-pitch live batting practice session without any issues, believes he'll be right soon enough.
"No physical issues," he said. "I was a hair off with my command, but I anticipated that, having not been in an adrenaline pitching scenario [throughout spring training]. But other than that, I felt great. I felt the ball was coming out good. So that's a first step."
Joe Girardi watched the first part of the session before getting on the team bus to Dunedin. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild was there for the duration.
"Better than I thought he'd be, not as rusty," Rothschild said. "So we'll see as we go. The arm strength and command and delivery was pretty good. He didn't quite pick up where he left off, but he wasn't that far off."
When Hughes started his flat-ground throwing program a little less than two weeks ago, he said his arm strength had declined a bit while he was sidelined. It's still not completely back, but it's getting there.
"Maybe a hair off from where I was [before the injury] but not to the extent I felt like when I [started] playing catch," Hughes said. "It's just going to take a little bit of time, which obviously isn't what I want to go through right now, but, like I said, I'm going to make sure it's right before I do anything."
Rothschild put arm strength in context. "Remember, he hadn't built his arm strength up all the way [before he got hurt],'' he said. "So a tick from where he was is more than a tick from being ready to pitch in a major-league game."
Meaning, as all have said, there is no rush. So the likely scenario is that with Ivan Nova and David Phelps both pitching well thus far, each will make a start during the first time through the rotation, with Hughes being ready the week after.
Assuming Hughes is the No. 4 starter, his first rotation turn would be April 5 against the Tigers. So the likely scenario is Hughes pitching in a minor- league game that day, then being deemed ready to start April 10 against the Indians in Cleveland.
"I think it's still really early to judge if he could be ready to start the season," Girardi said. "It's hard to say."
The next step for Hughes, whom Girardi wants to be capable of going 90 to 100 pitches before his first regular-season start, is to pitch in a simulated game Monday at the team's minor-league complex.
"I'd like to leave with five starters," said Girardi, noting that after an off day April 2, the Yankees play 12 straight days. "We play a substantial number of days in a row after that first day off. I can't tell you if he's going to be there when we start or if he's going to have to miss a turn and then be there the second start."