The battle for the fifth starter's spot was the most compelling spring-training storyline. Phil Hughes was the winner; after being skipped the first time through the rotation, he's ready to go tonight against the Angels at the Stadium.

Hughes will be making his first start since May 31, and just his 29th career start. Joe Girardi says Hughes is better prepared, mentally and physically, to be a starter than in any of his first three seasons, when the results were spotty.

The numbers are stark: Hughes is 8-9 with a 5.22 ERA in 28 career starts, with 59 walks and 112 strikeouts in 141 1/3 innings.

As a reliever: 5-1, 1.40 ERA in 44 appearances, with 13 walks and 65 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings.

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That said, here he is, armed with a new changeup to be more of a complete pitcher rather than an overpowering setup man, as he was last season.

Hughes will be opposed by Scott Kazmir, who is also making his season debut after needing extended spring training for shoulder tightness. The former Met first-round pick was supposed to be a key acquisition for the Angels last season when they got him from the Rays, but Kazmir struggled in the postseason.