It’s not as if Phil Hughes is back riding team buses through the minor-league bushes again. For Friday night’s game in New Britain, Conn., another step in rehabilitating a bad pitching shoulder, Hughes was driven to the ball park from New York in a limousine.
For his next start, most likely in Trenton on Wednesday, he’ll take the same sort of conveyance to again join temporary teammates, Double-A players hoping someday to be big leaguers like Hughes, just long enough to test his pitching progress.
On Friday, wearing the uniform of the Yankees’ Trenton Thunder farm team, Hughes went 3 1/3 innings, threw 72 pitches, some of them at a top speed of 93 miles per hour. He struggled with his control, beyond walking two batters (compared to three strikeouts).
The home team New Britain Rock Cats cracked some long, well-hit outs in the first two innings, plus a solid double in the outfield gap in the third inning, and scratched out two singles that deflected off the gloves of diving Trenton infielders, the second producing the only run against Hughes.
It hardly was a dominant performance, and certainly without any definitive answers. Before Saturday’s game at Yankee Stadium, manager Joe Girardi said he had spoken to general manager Brian Cashman about Hughes’ night and was told "he wasn’t as sharp, threw a lot of pitches in 3 1/3 innings. Was not hit hard. When we think he’s ready, that’s when we’ll call him back."
In the meantime, Hughes is scheduled to pitch on Wednesday, either for Trenton—which has an afternoon home game that day—or Triple-A Scranton—scheduled for a night road game in Norwalk, Va.
The good news about this not-really news from Hughes on Friday was that a steady rain held off until after he finished his work. (Nearly all of the 7,664 fans who came to the park left shortly after Hughes exited in the fourth inning.) And employees of the New Britain club, recognizing Hughes’ 25th birthday, presented him with a cake in the clubhouse after he pitched.
He recalled that the last time he played in New Britain was in May of 2006, when he was a full-time member of the Trenton team, working his way up through the minor leagues. On that date -- May 22 -- veteran Yankee Gary Sheffield suited up for Trenton in an injury-rehab appearance similar to Hughes’ on Friday.
"I remember that," Hughes said. "[Sheffield] took us all out to dinner at Outback."
Hughes did the same Friday night. "I bought Outback," he said Saturday. "But I didn’t enjoy myself."
Then he got in the limo and rode home.