Phil Hughes' start to be skipped

Updated: September 25, 2010, 12:37 PM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

Phil Hughes' turn in the New York Yankees rotation will be skipped one more time this season, meaning the 24-year-old right-hander could go as many as 10 days before starting a game in the postseason.

Joe Girardi announced before Friday night's game against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium that Hughes, scheduled to start on Sunday, would be moved instead to Wednesday night against the Blue Jays in Toronto. In his place, Dustin Moseley will start Sunday against the Red Sox.

"It has to do with innings," said Girardi, referring to a team-imposed innings limit on Hughes, a closely-guarded secret but believed to be 175. Hughes (17-8, 4.31 ERA) has pitched 169-2/3 innings so far this season, his first as a full-time starting pitcher.

With the Yankees clinging to a narrow half-game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays and the AL East still very much in play, it seems risky to start Moseley in a game that could help determine the division winner and with it, home-field advantage for the first two rounds of the postseason.

"Obviously, it's not the best situation when a guy gets skipped, because sometimes they're on a roll and feeling good about themselves and throwing the ball good," pitching coach Dave Eiland said. "But you have to protect their health and that's what this thing's all about."

The Yankees have used innings and pitch-count limitations with other young pitchers, with mixed results. Joba Chamberlain, restricted under the so-called Joba Rules as a rookie, still suffered shoulder soreness and has not been the same dominant pitcher that he was in 2007.

And Hughes, whose turn in the rotation has been skipped three times already this season, has not always responded well to the extra time off. Given nine days between starts in June, Hughes allowed six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings in a loss to Seattle on June 29. Skipped just before the All-Star Break, Hughes returned after 10 days of idleness to allow six earned runs in five innings in an 11-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.

"The hardest part is mentally figuring out how to handle it," Eiland said of Hughes. "Pitchers, especially starters, they're creatures of habit. If they get knocked off their routine a little bit it kinda messes with them mentally. I think that's what we've all learned from this. Especially with him."

Hughes was skipped again earlier this month, going nine days between starts from Sept. 5 to Sept. 15 and fared slightly better, allowing four earned runs in six innings of a 4-3 loss to the Rays in Tampa. In between, Hughes was used for an inning out of the bullpen. It is that effort that Eiland is offering as evidence that Hughes will not be adversely affected by the layoff.

"We gave him some side work and did some simulated innings down there and kept him sharp," Eiland said of the last time Hughes was skipped. "But who's to say that's what did it. Maybe he got used to it and figured out how to approach it a little different mentally. I don't look at the negative part of it.''

Hughes has accepted the innings limitations without being fully in agreement with their effectiveness. "I don't feel like I need any time off," he said before the last time he was skipped. Friday, he did not appear in the pregame clubhouse to speak with reporters.

The Yankees have yet to reveal their postseason rotation, but Eiland said, "I don't think it's all that hard to figure out. We're not gonna make any late-season trades or anything. The four or five we have is the four or five we have."

Assuming the Yankees will go with their regular rotation, that means CC Sabathia would pitch Game 1 of the ALDS on Oct. 6, followed by A.J. Burnett in Game 2 on Oct. 7. After an off-day for travel, Andy Pettitte would pitch Game 3 on Oct. 9, followed by Hughes in Game 4 on Oct. 10.

The Yankees have already begun reshuffling their rotation for the final nine games of the season to line up their playoff pitching. Sabathia, who pitched Thursday night and would normally go again on Tuesday, told the New York Daily News he will not pitch again until next Friday in Boston in order to have him on regular rest for Game 1.

The possibility remains that Hughes could be used out of the bullpen in one of the three games in Boston next weekend, but Girardi said, "Right now, the way we're looking at it, Wednesday will probably be it. But I'm allowed to change my mind."

In other news, general manager Brian Cashman said reliever David Robertson still was unavailable to pitch because of a strained back. Cashman said he was told Robertson had a good bullpen session, though. The right-hander has been sidelined since Monday. He had an MRI exam Wednesday.

Wallace Matthews covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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