Phil Hughes wasn't interested in numbers on a radar gun. He wasn't aware of his pitch count. And he didn't even seem to care about the hot dog races and cheerleaders that framed his minor-league rehab start Sunday. What he was most interested in was how the hitters at the plate fared against his stuff.
It was a positive for Hughes, who hasn't thrown a major-league pitch since April 15 because of shoulder inflammation.
"I wasn't getting a fastball by anybody at the beginning of the year," he said. "It's A-ball, but still these guys are pretty good hitters. So just to be able to see those swings and read those swings and know that the ball is coming out pretty good is encouraging. I'm hoping I can maintain that."
Wearing a gray road uniform with the number 53 on the back and the Staten Island Yankees logo across his chest, Hughes threw 41/3 innings against the Brooklyn Cyclones. And although he may not have cared about those numbers, they were pretty impressive.
Hughes threw 61 pitches, 41 of them for strikes. He allowed three hits, walked one and struck out seven. He'd retired 11 straight batters before his final pitch, a 1-and-1 changeup that leaked over the plate and was driven over the leftfield wall by catcher Nelfi Zapata.
According to radar guns behind home plate, he reached 95 miles per hour on his fastball in the second inning and routinely threw between 91 and 93 mph.
"It felt like it was coming out good," Hughes said when he learned of his velocity. "That's basically normal for me, so I'm encouraged with that. I just have to make sure with these next couple of outings as I go deeper into games that I can maintain that all the way through. It's a good sign right now."
Hughes said his next planned start will take place Friday for Double-A Trenton. After that?
"I hope it's not a situation where it takes me as many starts as it would in spring training to get back," he said. "I'm hoping that I can get back [to the majors] and at least make something of this year. Get back and make some quality starts for us and help us do what we want to do."
An All-Star last year when he went 18-8, Hughes is 0-1 with a 13.94 ERA in three starts this year. He struggled to reach 90 mph with his fastball, though the team initially chalked it up to the cold weather and his penchant for slow starts. After going on the disabled list, he received a cortisone shot in his shoulder, and even though the injury remains vague, he's satisfied it's behind him.
"I felt like I should feel, and that's a good thing," he said. "I'd be very discouraged if I came out and was the same as I was at the beginning of the year because that would mean that I didn't have an answer."