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Rehabbing Hughes not on top of his game

New York Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes throws

New York Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes throws a pitch for the Staten Island Yankees during rehab assignment against the Brooklyn Cyclones at MCU Park. (June 19, 2011) Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. -- If there were a field manual on rehabilitating a major league pitcher -- and there doesn't appear to be -- it wouldn't offer particularly clear guidance by including Phil Hughes' performance Friday night.

He threw 72 pitches -- 38 of those out of the strike zone -- -- for the Double-A Trenton Thunder against the New Britain Rock Cats. He didn't make it out of the fourth inning. His fastball, in his words, "was all over the place.'' He nudged the speed reading on the radar gun up to 93 miles per hour several times, but no more.

Not bad, though he was "much sharper,'' he said, in a 41/3-inning start for Staten Island against Brooklyn on Sunday. Friday night, "I wouldn't say I was encouraged. I mean, I felt good and all that.''

He drew a large crowd -- 7,664 fans, almost all of whom left when Hughes went to the showers and real showers commenced -- so that the game itself, a 3-2 New Britain win, qualified as a sideshow along with the donut-and-coffee-cup race between innings and the two dozen fans who threw out "first pitches.''

But now what?

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said before the game that he would prefer for Hughes to throw 75 pitches "to see if he can maintain his velocity. Then, unless all hell breaks loose with our rotation in New York, he'd get one more start [in the minors] to stretch him to 90 pitches or so.''

Hughes could predict only that he will pitch again in five days. "I know Trenton's home then,'' he said. "I don't know where Scranton is. I assume it will be one of those. Not New York.''

He last pitched in the majors on April 15 before being consigned to the disabled list, unable to keep his fastball much above the mid-80s. To treat what doctors told him was "severe inflammation'' in his pitching shoulder, "They gave me some cortisone shots and that was it,'' he said. "Obviously, something clicked, something made a difference.''

That he feels healthy again, though, is only half the battle. "I need to show my stuff is good and I'm pitching well,'' he said.

Friday night, he struggled with his control and left with one out in the fourth after New Britain's Brian Dozier tied it at 1 with an infield single.

In the clubhouse, Hughes -- who turned 25 Friday -- was presented with a birthday cake by Rock Cat employees. "That was great,'' he said. Except it reminded that the clock is ticking.

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