A frustrated Phil Hughes tried to make sense of things he had no explanation for: his inconsistent location, his dipping velocity and his lack of arm strength.
The righthander, his manager and his pitching coach insisted it is much too early to be overly concerned. But on a day when four Yankees home runs -- two by Jorge Posada, yet another by Mark Teixeira and one by Robinson Cano -- weren't enough to derail a 10-7 win by the Tigers, Hughes' struggles became all the more glaring and raised even more questions.
"When I'm not hitting my spots and my velocity is a little bit down, you know it's not going to be a good outcome," said Hughes, who allowed five runs and five hits in four innings -- including two two-run homers by Miguel Cabrera -- walked two and struck out one.
Brennan Boesch, who filled in for Magglio Ordoñez (ankle), went 4-for-4 with four RBIs and four runs scored for the Tigers, who outhit the Yankees 14-12. His two-run homer off Bartolo Colon in the fifth gave Detroit a 7-4 lead.
Hughes threw 90 pitches in his four innings, 57 for strikes, and according to the Stadium scoreboard, his fastball topped out at 91 mph. He ruled out injury, insisting that he feels "fine," and blamed poor location for the 80-mph cutter and 88-mph fastball Cabrera launched far over the leftfield wall.
"He hits mistakes," Hughes said of Cabrera, who is 7-for-14 with three homers against him.
Lots of pitchers can survive throwing just 90 mph. But Hughes knows he isn't one of them. He's too aggressive, too attack-minded for that. "When my velocity is a tick down, I can't get away with as many mistakes as I normally do," said Hughes, who said he needs to be around 92 or 93 mph. "Anybody can pitch at that. It's just that one guy's styles aren't necessarily made to do that. And I'm not really one of those guys.''
Catcher Russell Martin, who had three hits and is batting .455, said Hughes tends to rely on his cutter when he falls behind in counts and wants to get hitters "off the fastball a little bit." But "it's not really something that you want to do," he added. "It means that you're falling behind a little bit too much."
Like manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Larry Rothschild is confident that Hughes will be fine. "When we get going and you start to see the velocity, you can relax a little bit," Rothschild said. "But until then, we'll try to figure out if there's any routine that will work for him or something along those lines. We've been trying to figure it out this spring, so we continue."
The Yankees hit nine home runs in the first three games of 2011, a franchise record. But they never led Sunday, and each time they clawed their way back, the pitching staff gave the runs back. Colon allowed two runs in each of his first two innings, although he finished with two scoreless innings, and Joba Chamberlain allowed a run and three hits in the ninth.
"It's not necessarily difficult, but it continues to be challenging," Teixeira -- who already has three homers and seven RBIs -- said of the uphill battle on offense. "You don't want to try to do too much every time up . . . But when you have to score 10 runs, it's going to be tough to win."