You could say the majority of Yankees starting pitchers are auditioning every time they take the mound, given the prospect of Andy Pettitte's return next month. You could say that very thing, even if you are the manager of the Yankees.
"I think that's fair to say," Joe Girardi said Saturday morning.
By Saturday afternoon, after a 7-1 loss to the Angels at Yankee Stadium, it was fair to say that this was not the sort of audition that will go a long way toward helping Phil Hughes keep his job.
Hughes himself did not go a long way. He lasted only 31/3 laborious innings that ended with a rocket three-run home run to left by Howie Kendrick that gave the Angels a 6-0 lead.
After that ball landed and the rest of the dust had settled, after the Yankees had time to digest the fact that Hughes (0-2) has thrown 183 pitches to record 24 outs this season, the pitcher said he is thinking only of his next start -- not Pettitte's in a Class A game Sunday in Tampa, where he is scheduled to throw 45 to 50 pitches.
When he was asked specifically if he is worried about Pettitte, Hughes replied: "Not yet. Not right now, no."
Hughes and the rest of the Yankees were in Tampa last month on the day Pettitte announced his plan to return after a year of retirement. At the time, Hughes braced for the inevitable questions and brushed them off, saying how much he likes Pettitte. But back then, Hughes was in the midst of a strong spring training. That has not translated into a good beginning (9.00 earned run average).
"Guys get off to hot or cold starts for different reasons," Girardi said after Saturday's game. "As a player, you can't make too much of one day."
This was not much of a day for Hughes, even though he escaped a jam in the first by striking out Kendrys Morales and Torii Hunter with runners on first and third.
That inning took 25 pitches, and it set a tedious tone. He allowed a two-run home run to Chris Iannetta in the second and a run-scoring double, on a mistakenly letters-high 0-and-2 pitch, to Albert Pujols in the third. Hughes was gone after Kendrick teed off on a cutter with one out in the fourth, Hughes' 84th delivery.
Hughes wound up allowing six runs, eight hits and two walks, striking out six.
His teammates could not bail him out against C.J. Wilson, who secured his first victory against the Yankees in his 22nd appearance against them. They went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position.
Still, that wasn't the real concern for Hughes, nor is the specter of Pettitte. What haunts him is the memory of last season, when his shoulder was inflamed and his velocity was low.
"I was sort of in a similar situation resultswise, but stuffwise, it's miles of difference," he said. "I feel like my fastball is better than it was last year. I feel like I can succeed in this league; it's something that I've done before and hopefully something that I can do again. That sort of helps.
"It's not always going to be easy. I've learned that in my career. There are a lot of ups and downs," he said when asked where his encouragement comes from. "Obviously, I can call my dad. He never boos me."
Girardi said, "I don't think you win 17 games by accident." He was referring to Hughes' 18-8 All-Star season in 2010. Like the pitcher, he was a little off-target.
"There's no guarantee that someone else is coming in,'' Girardi said. "You look at a [Michael] Pineda and expect him to get back to his form from last year. You look at an Andy Pettitte and you expect him to get back to the form of 2010, but there are no guarantees. As Yankees, we're about winning. We're going to go with the best five guys when it's that time. People are getting a little bit ahead of themselves."
But you could say that Saturday left Hughes a little behind.