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Hughes Rules off to a bad start in loss to Mariners

New York Yankees' Phil Hughes leaves the field

New York Yankees' Phil Hughes leaves the field during the sixth inning of the baseball game against the Seattle Mariners. (June 29, 2010) Credit: AP

The first installment of the Hughes Rules last night went about as well as the Joba Rules did for the Yankees last year.

In his first start in 10 days because of the Yankees' belief in innings limits, Phil Hughes was hit hard by the offensively deficient Mariners. Hughes allowed 10 hits and seven runs (six earned) in 52/3 innings as the Yankees lost to Cliff Lee, 7-4, at Yankee Stadium.

The Mariners entered the game last in the American League in runs with 255 and tied for last in batting average at .239. But they treated Hughes as if he were a raw rookie instead of a potential All-Star with a 10-1 record.

Oops. 10-2 now.

Hughes previously pitched June 19 against the Mets. The Yankees then announced a long-anticipated plan to limit his innings by skipping a start and wrapping some extra days off around the All-Star break. Apparently, the Yankees want to keep Hughes to around 175 innings.

His next two starts, however, will be on the usual four-days' rest.

"Back to normal," Hughes said.

Last season, Chamberlain wilted as a starter under the Joba Rules, which were much more restrictive than the Hughes Rules, and now he's a reliever. It remains to be seen if Hughes' struggles last night were because of forced inaction or just a blip he might have had even without the extra days off.

"Not at all," Hughes said when asked if the layoff had affected him. "Not at all."

Said manager Joe Girardi: "I understand from a player's standpoint not wanting to be skipped. If I was in his shoes, it would be hard for me, too. But we're concerned about Phil Hughes today, tomorrow, two years from now, five years from now.

"A lot of times players are in the moment, and I understand that, too, because I did it myself. But we have a responsibility to the organization and the player to keep him healthy and sometime we have to make tough decisions that players don't like, but it's our job to make those tough decisions."

After Nick Swisher gave the Yankees a 1-0 lead with a first-inning home run - the first of his two solo shots off Lee - Hughes gave up a run in the second inning. And one in the third, fourth and fifth. And three in the sixth.

"Just not making pitches when I needed to," Hughes said. "When you're going up against a guy like [Lee], too many runs and you're buried pretty much."

By the time he was knocked out by Rob Johnson's two-run double in the sixth, Hughes trailed 7-1. Swisher homered in the sixth and the Yankees scored two in the ninth for the final margin.

Lee (7-3, 2.45 ERA), who beat the Yankees twice in the World Series last year with the Phillies, allowed eight hits and one walk in his third complete game in a row and fourth in his last five. He struck out two.

Before the game, Girardi called the 31-year-old lefthander a "strike-throwing machine" and generally gushed. Was it a sign of respect or a subtle recruiting pitch? Lee is available in a trade, with the Mets expected to be a prime suitor and the Yankees expected to at least sniff around.

Even if dealt, Lee should be a free agent after the season; the Yankees could come calling with a boatload of cash for the AL's ERA leader.

"I've always enjoyed pitching here," Lee said. But he also said he isn't thinking about his next stop (or stops) yet.

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