Pitching coach to bring Phil Hughes along step-by-step

Phil Hughes delivers a pitch in the bullpen

Phil Hughes delivers a pitch in the bullpen during spring training at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida. (Feb. 16, 2013) (Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams, Jr.)

TAMPA, Fla. -- Phil Hughes, feeling good after his first full bullpen session since mid-February, said being ready for the start of the regular season isn't "out of the question."

But Hughes, out since suffering two bulging discs in his upper back Feb. 18, has yet to pitch in a game, and the clock is not on his side.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said it's "reasonable" to think Hughes will be ready but added that it wouldn't be the worst thing for him to miss his first turn or two of the season.

"We'll be smart about what we're seeing and looking at and take it step by step," Rothschild said. "If it looks like we need to back off, we'll back off. Not necessarily because of the injury but just because where he is as far as how much work he's been able to do."

Rothschild said Hughes will throw live batting practice Thursday and "probably" a simulated game after that. Rothschild has given Hughes a series of dates -- first batting-practice session, first game, etc. -- the pitcher needs to hit in order to be ready for the regular season, but he declined to reveal them.

"If we can accelerate it comfortably after that, we'll do that," he said. "But it has to be effectiveness as well as health."

Hughes has said he's lost a little bit of arm strength in his time away, but that doesn't concern Rothschild.

"He had a significant period of time off, so I'm not going to assume that he can pick up where he left off before it happened," he said. "But I don't think he'll be that far off."

Hughes called Monday's bullpen session a "big step."

"I know there's dates I have to hit," Hughes said. "Larry knows what they are, and I assume by him telling me that I have BP Thursday, I would be on track to be ready to go."

 

Mo likes rookie

Jose Ramirez, with a mid-90s fastball and an advanced changeup for a 23-year-old, is the Yankees' pitching prospect who has caught the most attention from opposing team scouts. Ramirez, optioned to Double-A Trenton Monday after allowing zero runs in nine innings, caught Mariano Rivera's eye, too.

"You'll see him in the big leagues soon," Rivera said. "He's legit. He's got the goods."

 

Extra basesThe Yankees signed corner outfielder Ben Francisco, released earlier in the day by the Indians, to a minor-league deal. Brian Cashman said Francisco, 31, could compete with veterans Matt Diaz and Juan Rivera as righthanded-hitting outfield options . . . Derek Jeter, after a second game at DH, said the plan is for him to start in the field Wednesday night.

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