Commentary

Cool Hand Hughes faces hot spotlight

Nerves unlikely to faze Phil, but he needs to put pressure on Rangers in Game 6

Updated: October 22, 2010, 9:06 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- When Phil Hughes first showed up in New York Yankees camp as the potential ace of the future, captain Derek Jeter noticed. It wasn't that Hughes stood out. It was that he didn't stand out.

His relaxed demeanor fit in, even though Hughes was just pushing 20.

"That is just his mentality," Jeter said Thursday on the eve of Hughes' latest biggest start of his career, Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the Texas Rangers. "His demeanor is ... you don't want to say lackadaisical, but he doesn't seem like he is flustered by too much."

That will come in handy as Hughes pitches with the Yankees' season on his shoulders Friday night.

Hughes didn't pitch well in Game 2. In his second-shortest start of the season, he lasted just four innings, allowing seven runs (all earned), and he really didn't give the Yankees much of a chance to win.

But Hughes' nerves weren't the problem. Location was. After extended rest following the Yankees' AL Division Series sweep of the Minnesota Twins, Hughes couldn't find his control.

"The biggest thing is the location of his pitches obviously are very important," Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said. "We were able to get to two strikes, but we couldn't put them away."

Hughes is thankful his season wasn't put away with the Game 2 start. As Alex Rodriguez said after Hughes' exceptional postseason starting debut, seven scoreless innings in the ALDS-clinching win, it was a "coming-out party" for Hughes. After what ensued from Game 2 through Game 4 -- three consecutive Yankees losses -- it seemed as if the party might be over for Hughes this year.

"I'm just thrilled to have this opportunity again," Hughes said. "It wasn't guaranteed I would have another start in this series, and I'm just happy to be able to pitch and turn in a better start than my last one."

Hughes was smashed around Rangers Ballpark by nearly every batter in Game 2 of the ALCS, except for Josh Hamilton. In an effort to not let Hamilton beat him, Hughes walked him three times. Considering Hamilton is hitting .316 with four homers and seven RBIs in the first five games, that might not be the worst strategy -- especially if Nelson Cruz, who follows Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero in the order, is limited by his hamstring injury.

But Hughes is more concerned about what he is going to do instead of what the Rangers could do against him. He knows he can pitch in this park, having thrown 15 1/3 scoreless innings before his Game 2 stinker.

"I have to make some adjustments," Hughes said. "That's the key. I think whoever makes the adjustments is going to come out on top."

Hughes is ready to change the result, but not his mental approach. Jeter has noticed Hughes for awhile. As he has flourished into an All-Star, he hasn't changed.

"He seems pretty even-keeled, regardless of what is going on, and I think that has helped him," Jeter said. "He has always been like that."

Hughes won't be different Friday, but he knows the result must be if the Yankees will have a Saturday.

Andrew Marchand covers baseball for ESPNNewYork.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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