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Hughes has shoulder setback

New York Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes (65)

New York Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes (65) conducts a pregame ritual prior to pitching against the Baltimore Orioles. (April 14, 2011) Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

Phil Hughes aborted his bullpen session after 20 pitches Monday, citing "a lot of deadness" in his right shoulder, and there's no telling when he will take the mound again.

The Yankees had planned to have Hughes make a minor-league rehab start as early as Thursday, but they scrapped those thoughts and instead sent him to see team doctor Chris Ahmad Monday night, Joe Girardi said. An MRI is scheduled for Tuesday.

On the disabled list since April 15, Hughes has been long- tossing in the outfield in an effort to stretch out his shoulder, and it seemed to be working. Girardi said Hughes threw as hard as 92 mph in the bullpen Saturday, a noted improvement from the 89 mph that his fastball averaged in his first three starts.

Hughes said his shoulder felt strong during the first 10 to 12 pitches in the bullpen Monday but suddenly felt as though he had thrown 110 pitches, the same tired sensation he's been dealing with since spring training. And that's a troubling sign for the guy the Yankees were counting on to be their No. 2 or 3 starter.

"There is a level of concern here because everything seemed to be going in the right direction," Girardi said. "And it kind of halted a little bit today."

Hughes said he's worried, too, describing the development as "discouraging." Standing at his locker with an oversized ice pack nestled on his bothersome shoulder, he said he expects to remain idle for a few days while the medical staff determines the next course of action.

The Yankees have described the injury as "right shoulder inflammation" and Hughes shrugged when asked if he knows its source. "It's so hard to describe," he said. "It's almost like something you can't put your finger on. Whether it's the shoulder or biceps, they're not really sure what the issue is stemming from."

Hughes, 0-1 with a 13.94 ERA in 101/3 innings in three starts, likened the sensation in his shoulder to the numbness one might feel after getting hit hard in a meaty area of the body such as the thigh.

The Yankees had not had Hughes undergo any medical tests, believing he simply has been slow to build his velocity for the second straight year. But pitching coach Larry Rothschild said this has gone longer than any "dead-arm'' period he's ever seen, and he's been working with major-leaguers since 1997. "It's kind of new territory for everybody," he said.

Which is why the only logical conclusion is an injury, even though Hughes insists the sensation in his shoulder is no different from previous years when he's dealt with a tired shoulder. But he has had this for two months, and nothing has changed.

"When you're not able to bounce back on your normal routine, that's a concern," Girardi said. "He said there's no sharp pain. He said it just wasn't there."

Added Hughes, "I just need to figure out what's going on."

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