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Hughes, Ibañez lead Yanks over Mariners

Phil Hughes pitching early during a game against

Phil Hughes pitching early during a game against the Mariners. (May 12, 2012) Credit: David Pokress

This, finally, was the Phil Hughes the Yankees expected.

The righthander, so good during spring training, stumbled out of the regular-season gate and faced questions about being banished to the bullpen.

After Saturday's's dominant performance against the Mariners in a 6-2 victory at the Stadium, those questions were the furthest thing from anyone's mind.

"Outstanding,'' catcher Russell Martin said. "He was just very aggressive out there, especially with his fastball.''

Hughes (3-4, 5.50 ERA) went a season-high 72/3 innings, allowing one run, six hits and a walk and striking out four.

"Aggressive'' was the word of the day afterward as Hughes continued implementing the strategy he and pitching coach Larry Rothschild discussed several weeks ago. The idea is for Hughes to pitch with more of a reliever's attitude and recapture what made him so effective in 2009, when he posted a 1.40 ERA in 44 relief appearances.

"Sort of that reliever mentality I talked about maybe four starts ago,'' Hughes said. "I wanted to be aggressive, but there's smart aggressive, too. Make good pitches, make smart pitches, but do everything aggressively and use however many pitches I have and really make the most of them.''

Although Hughes' previous two outings weren't great, there was enough progress in each to suggest a turnaround. He went 62/3 innings Sunday in Kansas City and still was throwing 95 mph at the end. Though his fastball and curveball Saturday weren't as good as they've been, Hughes said, he and Martin said his changeup was outstanding.

"Larry and he talked about being aggressive and going as long as you can, as hard as you can,'' Joe Girardi said, "because he was so successful coming out of the bullpen and locating everything. It's just been an attitude we want him to take on.''

Hughes was lifted with two on and two outs in the eighth, replaced by lefthander Boone Logan to face the lefthanded-hitting Ichiro Suzuki. Logan struck out Ichiro on three pitches, giving him 18 strikeouts in 132/3 innings this season.

Logan did allow a run-scoring double by Mike Carp in the ninth inning -- it initially was ruled a homer but was overruled after a review -- but retired the next two batters to end it.

The Yankees (19-14) scored all of their runs with two outs -- RBI doubles by the red-hot Raul Ibañez and Martin and a two-run homer by Jayson Nix in the second; a home run by Ibañez into Monument Park in the fourth and an RBI single by Robinson Cano in the eighth.

"Love it,'' Girardi said of the two-out hits. "Those are the runs that kill you. Those are the runs that are big for you and hurt other teams, and we got them today.''

The Yankees scored their first five runs against former Yankee Hector Noesi (2-4), part of the Jesus Montero/Michael Pineda deal.

Hughes shut out what this season has been a mostly weak Mariners lineup for 62/3 innings before giving up a long home run to Carp in the seventh. But the Yankees had things mostly in hand at that point, having given Hughes a cushion with the four-run second.

Hughes was the latest Yankee to produce a solid start as things continued to look up for what had been a beleaguered rotation. It figures to get another boost Sunday when Andy Pettitte makes his debut.

The rotation improved to 4-0 with a 1.31 ERA in five starts on this homestand, and the group overall has allowed three or fewer earned runs in each of the last eight games.

''CC [Sabathia] sets the pace for everybody,'' Hughes said of the staff ace, who has won his last five games, compiling a 2.52 ERA during that stretch.

"We all know that sometimes he can be a little bit of a slow starter, but when it warms up, he really finds his groove. If we get him pitching the way he's been pitching, everybody kind of feeds off that.''

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