SARASOTA, Fla. - Phil Hughes showed up for spring training slim and trim after an offseason of hard work, determined to put himself in position to start the season strong.
Joe Girardi made the announcement Wednesday afternoon and it did not come as a surprise.
It had been expected for over a month as Hughes' recovery from two bulging discs suffered Feb. 18 took a deliberate pace.
Although he pitched five innings and threw 81 pitches in a start against Toronto minor-leaguers Wednesday, Hughes simply doesn't have enough time to be ready for the start of the regular season.
The good news, Girardi said, is the 26-year-old righthander should need just one or two more starts in extended spring training before being ready, meaning Hughes could make his debut April 6 at Detroit or April 11 at Cleveland.
"He could do the sixth if we feel he's ready," Girardi said. "I think you plan for giving him two more starts but that doesn't mean we have to. We might feel he's ready after the next one [in four days]."
Ivan Nova, who had a second straight rough spring outing yesterday -- also in a minor-league game -- will be slotted into the fourth rotation spot, followed by David Phelps. When Hughes is deemed ready to return, Phelps likely will return to the bullpen. Phelps started Wednesday night against the Orioles and struck out nine in 51/3 innings. He allowed three runs and four hits. Phelps entered the game with a 2-3 record and 3.97 ERA.
"I feel like sometimes I got off to a slow start [to the season] and this offseason I really focused on being ready to come into spring so I could avoid that," Hughes said after he allowed four hits and no runs over five innings, his fastball sitting consistently around 90 mph.
"Having this setback was difficult but I'm not going to think about years past. Just be ready to go and see how everything unfolds."
In his career, Hughes is 4-9 with a 7.04 ERA in starts in March and April, including 1-3, 7.88 last season.
"I feel pretty good, it's just a matter of them feeling like I'm ready to go," Hughes said. "I just don't want to do anything dumb and set myself back and miss a good chunk of the season instead of one, maybe two starts."
Nova, meanwhile, did not have a good day, allowing six earned runs and eight hits over five innings, also against Toronto minor leaguers.
"Got out of the gate strong, he struggled toward the end, I don't know how to characterize that," general manager Brian Cashman said of Nova's spring. "But I know his arm is healthy, his stuff is good."
Nova went 1-0 with a 4.19 ERA in five spring starts, which doesn't include yesterday because minor-league games don't count as official.
"I was expecting to have a better spring than I had but I feel really good, and it wasn't that bad, either," Nova said. "I made a lot of adjustments on my mechanics. I feel really good."
Those adjustments involved pitching coach Larry Rothschild shortening Nova's delivery, something he's not entirely comfortable with yet. But he says he will be.
"It's more positive things than negative things," Nova said of his spring, in which he was especially pleased with his curveball and fastball command. "I got my work in and did what I was supposed to do."
With David Lennon