SEATTLE - When spring training ended, what would Phil Hughes have said to anyone who told him he'd have 11 wins at the All-Star break and be headed to the All-Star Game?
Hughes didn't need much time to ponder the question. "You're crazy," he said.
The righthander improved to 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA Friday night in the Yankees' 6-1 victory over the Mariners, a game in which he allowed one run, six hits and no walks in seven innings.
Mark Teixeira, who hit two solo home runs in the win, said getting that kind of first half out of any fifth starter is incredible, let alone one who emerged from spring training as a relatively unknown quantity as a starter.
"It's huge for our team. That's a difference-maker, it really is," Teixeira said, "when a fifth starter, a guy that had to win the job out of spring training, becomes one of your three aces. I think we have three aces right now. It makes such a huge difference in our team. We may not be in first place without Phil Hughes."
Hughes became the Yankees' third 11-game winner, joining Andy Pettitte (11-2, 2.70) and CC Sabathia (11-3, 3.19), who pitches this afternoon. That gave the Yankees three 11-game winners before the All-Star break for the first time since 1955.
After the All-Star Game, Hughes will begin the second half as the fourth starter, Joe Girardi said before last night's game. Hughes and Javier Vazquez, who started last night, will flip spots in the rotation, though Girardi said it doesn't reflect on the seasons they're having. "Just the way we're going with it," he said. "Not a huge deal."
Regardless, Hughes, who is on an innings limit believed to be about 175 to 180 - he's at 101 - will have to be skipped at least once and maybe twice in the second half.
Girardi said Hughes' dominance in the bullpen last season set him up for this year, and the pitcher has said the same. But success as the fifth starter wasn't a sure thing. "We thought he threw the ball great in spring training, but it's always different when you get in the season," Girardi said. "He made huge strides and he's just carried it over to this year."
Girardi said the 6-5, 240-pound Hughes' velocity - aided by the 24-year-old "filling out" physically - has stood out. "I think the thing that's been most impressive to me is his velocity's been consistent, consistently higher than it had been when he was a starter," he said. "It seemed like in '08 it was 89 to 91, 92. Now he's 92 to 95, and it's been much more consistent."
Hughes said he's taken a lot of pride in what he's accomplished to this point. "I felt in spring training that I'd be able to have a good year," he said. "I kind of got that confidence back from last year, but I don't think a lot of people expected a ton out of me, being that I was the No. 5 starter and that basically all we needed was a solid No. 4 guy. Maybe not all that much pressure was put on me, but I really felt a lot of pressure from myself that I could have a good year, and so far, so good. So I do take pride in that because the front office puts a lot of belief in you and it's kind of up to you to deliver on that."
The pressure, he said, certainly isn't lessened by being at the back of the rotation as opposed to the front. Yankees fans, he said with a smile, don't care if you're the ace or the guy rounding out the rotation. "If you're the No. 1 or No. 5 starter," he said, "there's pressure to win."