WASHINGTON -- It usually isn't overly complex when a pitcher gets on a roll, and it hasn't been for Phil Hughes.
"It's been better command of his fastball. That's been the big key for him,'' Joe Girardi said Friday afternoon. "You look at the one loss, he didn't have command. So when he has it, he's pretty good.''
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Hughes was darn good Friday night.
Dominating the NL East-leading Nationals for six innings, Hughes won for the sixth time in his last eight starts as the AL East-leading Yankees prevailed, 7-2, in front of a sellout crowd of 41,406 at Nationals Park.
"They've been playing well and he shut them down,'' said Derek Jeter, who had two hits.
The Yankees (38-25) won their seventh straight and 17th of 21.
Hughes (7-5, 4.50) allowed one run, six hits and two walks in six innings. He struck out a season-best nine and ended his streak of allowing at least one home run at 12 games.
"I feel better with everything,'' Hughes said.
In his last eight starts, Hughes is 6-1 with a 3.27 ERA. His strong outing Friday was the continuation of a stellar month for the Yankees' rotation, which improved to 10-1 with two no-decisions and a 2.08 ERA since June 1. The unit went 9-8 with a 5.80 ERA in April and 13-12, 4.15 in May.
"I just think they were better than the way they were pitching,'' said Joe Girardi, who earned his 500th victory as a manager Friday night (he had 78 with Florida in 2006). "They seem to be pitching the way they're capable of pitching now.''
Hughes said of the roll the starters are on: "You want to keep the streak going as long as we can and you don't want to be the one who lets it down. I'll continue and try to get better between every start, and hopefully this keeps up.''
The Yankees broke open a close game with a four-run seventh that gave them a 6-1 lead. An infield single by Jeter and subsequent throwing error by shortstop Ian Desmond accounted for two runs, and Curtis Granderson's opposite-field double off Mike Gonzalez brought in the other two. Granderson's 20th homer in the ninth made it 7-1 and gave him 39 RBIs.
It also made him the recipient of some clubhouse teasing from Mark Teixeira and Boone Logan. Until Granderson went deep, the Yankees were on the verge of recording their first victory this season without benefit of a home run. They remain 0-12 when they fail to hit a home run.
"I wasn't trying to,'' Granderson said with a smile. "It just happened.''
David Robertson, activated from the disabled list (strained left oblique), allowed one run and two hits in the ninth.
Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez (8-3, 2.52) came in 0-4 with a 9.31 ERA in his last four starts against the Yankees but pitched far better than those numbers. He was lifted with the Yankees ahead 2-1 in the seventh after allowing Andruw Jones' leadoff single. His bullpen torched things from there.
Until the sixth, all of the scoring had taken place in the third, with the Yankees scoring twice in the top half of the inning. Alex Rodriguez, hitting .167 with two outs and runners in scoring position this season, had a two-out RBI single and Nick Swisher followed with one of his own.
The hit gave Rodriguez 1,924 RBIs, tying him with Jimmie Foxx for sixth all-time.
As for the night's other milestone, Jeter presented Girardi the game ball in the clubhouse afterward.
"I thanked them for their effort and what they do,'' Girardi said. "And my coaches are great.''
Jeter called it "a big deal,'' then smiled.
"Five hundred is like 750 in New York,'' Jeter said. "But he's done a great job since he's been with us.''