- Wallace Matthews, ESPN Staff Writer
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BALTIMORE -- It turns out Joe Girardi was playing a game of misdirection all week, when he tried to keep fans and the media guessing about who would start Thursday's series finale against the Orioles at Camden Yards.
New York Yankees
"We'll start with Hughes," Girardi announced minutes after the Yankees had hung on to beat the Orioles 5-4 on Wednesday in a game that vaulted them over Baltimore and Cleveland in the American League wild-card race and left them breathing down the necks of the rapidly fading Tampa Bay Rays, who are now only a game ahead.
"Just a little bit more experience," Girardi said in explaining his choice. "And we like what Huff did out of the bullpen, so we're going to put him back there."
The clear implication, of course, is that the Yankees did not like what Huff did in his one and only start, in which he allowed nine earned runs in 3 1/3 innings to the Red Sox. By comparison, Hughes' season numbers -- 4-13, 5.11 ERA -- don't look all that bad. But he has not won a game since July 2, and the Yankees are 10-16 in the games he has started this season. After losing his starting job to Huff, Hughes got just one out while allowing four runs in his only relief outing of the season.
The real problem is, Hughes has been pretty much the same pitcher throughout his career against the Orioles that he is against everyone else this season. Hughes' career mark against Baltimore is an OK 6-5, but his overall ERA is 5.30, with 15 home runs allowed in 86 2/3 innings, or 1.58 HRs per nine innings, about the same ratio he allowed last year, when he surrendered a league-high 35 home runs.
His HR ratio is lower at Camden Yards -- he has given up just four in 32 innings, or 1.125 per nine -- but his ERA in Baltimore is a whopping 5.91.
Still, for some reason, Hughes is a more palatable option for Girardi than Huff at this juncture of the season, with just 16 games left to play.
For Hughes, who will be a free agent this winter, it is a chance to write a storybook ending to what has been a nightmare season.
"Yeah, it'll be great," he said. "I'll give it everything I've got and see where we are at the end. Not really worried about redemption or proving anybody wrong or stuff like that. I'm excited for the opportunity, and we'll see how it shakes out."
Hughes has pitched just 1 2/3 innings over the past 17 days, and even he admits that could be a problem.
"Well, I hope I'm fresh," he said. "Command, I think, will be the issue, but as long as I'm throwing strikes early, I'll be fine."
QUESTION: Do you think Girardi is making a mistake starting Hughes in Thursday's game?