It's all fine and good, Phil Hughes said, to win games without his best stuff, but eventually he'd like to rediscover what he had the first month of the season.
Hughes is 10-1 with a 3.17 ERA after beating the Mets yesterday, and although no other fifth starter in baseball comes close to that kind of sterling record - actually, few pitchers not named Ubaldo Jimenez (13-1) do - he hasn't been pleased of late.
"I don't think I've pitched well enough to really have that record," Hughes said. "But the offense has been great. I've pitched some good games, but really, some of them I've just been lucky, trying to keep us in the game."
Hughes allowed three runs in the first three innings yesterday, all of them a result of Jose Reyes. The Mets' leadoff batter hit Hughes' second pitch of the game into the seats in rightfield to make it 1-0, and his two-run shot in the third made it 3-1.
The next time Hughes saw Reyes, he struck him out swinging at a perfectly placed 77-mph curveball on the outside corner. Reyes clearly was fooled by the change in speed.
Did Hughes make an adjustment? "Yeah, I didn't give him a fastball right down the middle," he said with a smile. "He took advantage of a couple mistakes, and after that I tried to execute my pitches a little better."
Hughes otherwise was good, allowing two hits and a walk in his last four innings. He thought his last four innings were much better than his first three, mostly because he starting commanding his fastball and getting ahead of hitters.
But Hughes' bottom line is that Saturday made it four straight starts - all victories - in which he hasn't felt he's pitched to his ability.
"It's great to battle and to keep us in the game, but you also want to go out there and have that 'A' game and really go out and throw seven, eight shutout innings, and I really haven't done that in a while," Hughes said. "I've been struggling to find that the last few times."
Mark Teixeira, whose two-run homer to right-center in the third tied it at 3, said regardless of how the 23-year-old pitcher feels about how he's gotten to 10-1, his season has been remarkable.
"We expected Phil to have a good season. We expected him to go through some growing pains, though," Teixeira said. "This is his first full year starting in the rotation and we expected him to have some ups and downs. He hasn't had them."
The All-Star Game is less than a month away, and with it being played at Angel Stadium - 10 minutes from where Hughes grew up and where his parents still live - the pitcher has thought about what it might be like to get selected.
"I think about it, but a lot can change between now and then," Hughes said. "It would be nice . . . but those things, they're nice, but we have one goal here and that's really the only goal."
The man who will make that decision, Joe Girardi, isn't tipping his hand, although maybe he doesn't have to.
"We'll get to that when we get there," Girardi said. "Obviously, the numbers speak for themselves."