In an encouraging 49-pitch outing at the Yankees' minor- league complex, Hughes conquered both the sauna-like conditions and a lineup of Yankees farmhands. With the thermometer topping out at around 88, the radar gun on Hughes' fastball consistently registered from 91 to 93 miles per hour.
His final line: three innings (including a five-out second inning), no runs, two hits, six strikeouts, one walk -- and zero setbacks.
"I felt a lot better," said Hughes, who showed nary a sign of the arm fatigue that landed him on the disabled list after three woeful starts for the Yankees to open the season. "The ball's coming out pretty good, so that's the only thing I can ask for at this point; just trying to build up and make sure I don't have any setbacks and have a positive day every day."
Mixing his fastball with breaking pitches clocked in the mid-70s, Hughes struck out five of the first eight batters he faced. His final pitch of the second inning -- and 31st of the day -- was a fastball that hit 92.
He allowed a leadoff single to rightfield in the third, and later surrendered a two-out, ground-rule double that bounced over the wall in center. After a walk loaded the bases, Hughes got a sharp grounder to third to end his day.
At that point, his fastball still was hitting the low 90s.
"When you haven't pitched in a long time, command's obviously a big concern, just because I haven't had that mound time in quite a while. I felt good with that today," said Hughes, who makes his next start Sunday with the Yankees' Class A Staten Island affiliate, which will be playing at the Brooklyn Cyclones.
"I was satisfied with those three major concerns that I have: One, I physically felt good. Two, the ball's coming out good. And three, I was throwing strikes. I did all those pretty well today."
Such optimism, however, arrives in installments. Hughes said he hopes to throw around 65 pitches Sunday, and perhaps 80 his next outing. If those starts go well, "then I think probably the leash is off," he said.
"I'm hoping it won't be too much longer [to return to the big-league club], but it's kind of in my hands. I have to go out and I have to pitch well and show the stuff that I deserve to be there."