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Hughes gets first win as Yanks top Jays

New York Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes works against

New York Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes works against the Toronto Blue Jays during the first inning in Toronto. (July 17, 2011) Credit: AP

TORONTO -- All Phil Hughes wants is to make up for lost time.

After months of lingering questions about the health of his right arm and his waning velocity, the Hughes of old finally resurfaced. He was confident and in control, and more importantly, willing to trust his stuff again.

"Well, it's not 18, but it's a start," the Yankees starter joked.

Hughes, an 18-game winner last season, picked up his first win of the season Sunday, using a new and improved curveball in a 7-2 victory over the Blue Jays.

The Yankees earned a split in the four-game series behind the 25-year-old, who allowed two runs and four hits in six innings. The Yankees, who open a four-game series in Tampa Monday night, improved to 55-37.

"You never want to see a zero behind your name all the time," said Hughes, who lowered his ERA from 10.57 to 8.44. "I wish it didn't take this long to get my first win, but it is what it is."

Armed with a sharper, more consistent curve and a downhill fastball, Hughes pitched a scoreless first inning, getting Rajai Davis to pop out awkwardly on a 70-mph curve before Eric Thames struck out looking on three pitches.

"With my old curveball, he probably could have recognized it and always fouled it off or something," Hughes (1-2) said of Thames. "I knew right out of the chute that it was going to be a good pitch for me."

After a two-out single by Yunel Escobar, Hughes got Adam Lind to fly out to end the inning. His first five outs came on curves around 75-76 mph, a few ticks higher than his old one. Hughes' fastball peaked at 93 mph in the first inning and remained in the 91-92 range.

It was the longest outing of the season for Hughes, who last pitched July 6. Though he isn't ready to declare himself all the way back yet, Sunday's start was encouraging; one that will alleviate the team's concerns about its pitching.

"You're adding a quality starter to your rotation if you can get him back [to last year's form]," Girardi said before the game. "It's almost like making a trade."

Hughes sees it differently.

"I should have been here and winning games for us and I wasn't, so I don't necessarily view it as a big trade or anything like that," said Hughes, who has allowed only four runs in two starts since coming off the disabled list.

"I will say that we did a great job of battling when we didn't have some things going for us. And now it's the second half and I'll do anything I can to win as many games for us every start I'm out there."

Hughes needed only 15 pitches to get through the fifth and sixth innings and threw 80 total, 51 for strikes. He tried talking his way back on the mound for the seventh, but with the temperature in the 80s, Girardi thought it best to pull him.

The Blue Jays tied it at 1 in the second after Edwin Encarnacion doubled off the base of the right-centerfield wall and scored on a single by Travis Snider. They scored again in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Aaron Hill, but Hughes shut the door after that.

"He had good command, good composure out there. He just looked confident," catcher Russell Martin said. "Trusted his fastball and wasn't afraid to throw it. I don't know what the radar gun was saying but it was jumping out of his hand today."

The Yankees loaded the bases twice in the first on three singles and a walk, but scored only once, on a single by Nick Swisher (2-for-4). Curtis Granderson (2-for-5) provided the big hit in a four-run fourth, a two-run double off Carlos Villanueva (5-2).

Brett Gardner had three hits, and Martin and Ramiro Peña had RBIs. Corey Wade, David Robertson and Boone Logan each pitched a scoreless inning, with Logan striking out the side in the ninth.


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