TRENTON, N.J. -- If it were up to Phil Hughes, his next start would take place in the big leagues.
But, the pitcher quickly pointed out, it's not.
"I don't make those decisions," Hughes said with a laugh Wednesday after his longest, and best, rehab start to date.
A large contingent of the Yankees' hierarchy watched Hughes, a group that included general manager Brian Cashman -- who will make that decision -- senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman, senior director of pro personnel Billy Eppler and senior vice president Gene Michael.
Cashman was noncommittal whether Hughes would need another rehab start but liked what he saw in his 61/3-inning start. "Today was a really good day," Cashman said last night at Yankee Stadium. "He was very sharp, his stuff was explosive."
But Cashman may need a little more evidence before Hughes returns to the Yankees' rotation. "It wouldn't hurt for him to get one more outing . . . it wouldn't hurt to get him stretched out farther," he said.
Hughes threw 88 pitches -- 61 for strikes -- a significant improvement over his previous start, last Friday in New Britain, Conn., when he had trouble locating his pitches.
"My last two outings stuff-wise has been good, it was the command that faltered a little bit, so I wanted to make sure I improved upon that and didn't necessarily think about what the radar gun said on every pitch," Hughes said. "I knew my stuff's been good last month or so, just have to make sure the location's there."
But for a pitcher on the disabled list ostensibly because of a "dead arm" -- he was placed on the DL April 15 officially with inflammation in his right shoulder, for which he received a cortisone shot -- the radar readings are meaningful.
And, for a second straight outing, they were encouraging.
Hughes's fastball maxed out at 94 mph and consistently registered between 91-94 mph. His third-to-last pitch was a 92-mph fastball.
A straw poll of four opposing scouts yielded mixed results when they were asked if Hughes' pitches looked ready to take on major leaguers. Two said yes, one shook his head (a no) and the fourth was 50-50.
"I would say probably but, for me, I'd give him one more [minor league] start," the fourth scout said. "Can't hurt. And it's not like they're desperate."
The scout who was a definite "no" on Hughes being ready was impressed with his velocity but didn't think the pitcher's endurance is quite there yet.
"He tired after 60 pitches," the scout said. "The last three innings were a struggle."
Hughes retired the first 10 before allowing a one-out single in the fourth. The righthander needed seven pitches to get through both the third and fourth innings before needing 15 and 19 to get through the fifth and sixth, respectively. Hughes, who recorded nine one-pitch outs, was pulled with two on and one out in the seventh.
Hughes admitted to feeling fatigued in "the last inning," but, most important, believes his dead-arm issue is behind him.
"It feels normal, like it did last year," Hughes said. "And I can tell by the swings that I'm getting. Earlier in April, they couldn't wait to get in the batter's box, which is not a good feeling when you're out there. So it's back to normal, and that's good. I just have to make sure that my command is back to normal as well, so that's kind of what I'm focusing on."
With Kimberley A. Martin