Commentary

Phil to 'pen? That was writing on wall

If the Yanks had landed Cliff Lee, All-Star Hughes might have become an ex-starter

Updated: July 10, 2010, 1:02 PM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

SEATTLE -- As New York Yankees starter Phil Hughes spoke after pocketing his 11th win, his American League All-Star gear hung in his locker. Considering the circumstances, Hughes admitted something that would be shocking if it weren't about the Yankees.

If they had pulled off the Cliff Lee deal, Hughes thinks he might not have been a starter anymore.

"I figured I might go to the bullpen, but I've done that before," Hughes said after the Yankees' 6-1 victory over the Mariners, which extended their season-best winning streak to seven games.

Before the non-deal, the Yankees had not completely figured out what they would have done if they had acquired Lee, but the two most obvious options were trading Javy Vazquez or moving Hughes to the 'pen. A six-man rotation was a possibility, albeit an unlikely one.

As it is, even without Lee, it is easy to imagine Hughes being the eighth-inning guy come late September and into October. It would keep his innings down while improving the bullpen.

When asked by ESPNNewYork.com if he could envision a scenario where Hughes was a reliever during the regular season, Yankees manager Joe Girardi did not close the bullpen door.

"Right now, we expect him to be a starter," Girardi said.

Pitching coach Dave Eiland, when asked the same question, was a little more definitive, but added that you never say never.

"No, I don't think so," Eiland said. "The guy is 11-2."

That is true, but with Hughes now joining CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte as 11-game winners, the Yankees are the first team to have three pitchers with that many victories by the All-Star break in more than a decade -- and they still were about to add Lee. So anything is within the realm of possibility.

The Yankees want to be careful with Hughes. That is why they rearranged their rotation at the end of June to give Hughes a 10-day break. The second prong to that move was that Hughes will get an extended rest, which begins now.

While Hughes could pitch, at most, an inning during the All-Star Game on Tuesday -- which will essentially act as a throw day -- the Yankees have set up their rotation so Hughes will get another 10 days off between starts.

Hughes will likely start the fourth game of the second half, which isn't until July 20.

(An interesting side note: Sabathia likely will make back-to-back starts. He will begin Sunday's game against the Mariners, which is followed by the four-day All-Star Break. That will allow him to open the second half against the Rays next Friday.)

Hughes is an All-Star, but he was getting steadily worse this season until Friday night. In April, he was 2-0 with a 2.00 ERA. In May, he was 4-1 with 3.03 ERA. In June, he was 4-1 with a 5.17 ERA. In his first start in July, he lasted six innings and gave up five runs.

Hughes had control of the strike zone and consistent 94-95 mph speed on his fastball on Friday. He did not walk a batter for the only the second start all season.

Hughes pitched out of trouble in his odd-numbered innings. In the first, he allowed a two-out double to Russell Branyan. But Hughes jacked a 1-1 fastball up to 96 and got Jose Lopez to fly out to right.

In the third, Hughes allowed two one-out singles before using a 90 mph cutter to induce Chone Figgins to ground into a fielder's choice, and then struck out Branyan on a 2-2, 78 mph curveball.

In the fifth, after a one-out double by Rob Johnson, Hughes ended the inning by striking out Jack Wilson on three pitches -- the last of which was a 95 mph heater -- and popping up Ichiro Suzuki on a 94 mph fastball.

After giving up a run in the sixth, Hughes ended his night with a 1-2-3 seventh.

The consistent velocity on Hughes' fastball is what stands out for Girardi. He will manage Hughes on the All-Star team because of his work as a starter. By the end of the second half, being a reliever for the Yankees is still in play.

Hughes knows it. Everyone does after the Yankees almost got Lee.

GAME NOTES: Mark Teixeira hit homers from each side of the plate. It is the 10th time in his career he had done that. He has reached base in 30 consecutive games, the longest streak by a Yankee this year. ... The 1999 Astros, with Mike Hampton, Jose Lima and Shane Reynolds, were the last club to have three pitchers with 11 wins at the All-Star break.

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

More from ESPNNewYork.com »

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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