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Monday, March 18, 2013
Get off Phil's back

By Wallace Matthews

TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees were laughing about it afterward, but there was a scary moment this morning when a sharp one-hopper hit by Yankee farmhand David Adams hit Phil Hughes square in the back during the first inning of a simulated game at the minor-league complex this morning.

Yes, the same back that acted up on Hughes a month ago today and caused him to be shut down for two weeks, putting in jeopardy his ability to go north with the team when they break camp next Friday.

"Right in the center of my spine," Hughes said. "I wouldn’t expect anything less. It’s a good test for me."

But Hughes shook it off and finished his two innings of work, throwing 41 pitches, after which he declared himself ready for the next step in his delayed spring training. "Next is hopefully a real game," he said. "I'm not sure when or where or anything like that, but that’s my hope."

Later, both Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild said it was likely Hughes would start in a minor-league game either Friday or Saturday, and move up to 50-55 pitches. In order for Hughes to be included on the 25-man roster for Opening day, he would need to throw 90 pitches in a game down here, an attainable goal if all goes well, meaning he stays healthy and throws three more starts in Tampa, including one on April 2 when the rest of the Yankees will have already played one regular-season game.

That would out him on track to start April 7 in Detroit, and would probably entail him being put on the DL, backdated 10 days before the April 1 opener.

But those plans are still in the future. First, Hughes has to progress from his work today, when he labored through his first inning, allowing two hits, including a sharp liner to the left-center gap, but improved in the second inning, in which there were literally no good swings taken against him.

"I was a little eager and kind of overthrowing a little bit in the first inning," Hughes said. "But the second one was much better. I came out of it healthy and that’s the biggest thing."

Rothschild agreed with Hughes' self-assessment, and attributed Hughes' eagerness to being frustrated with the injury setback after having arrived him camp significantly ahead of his normal schedule.

"Before (the back injury) came up he was throwing the ball really well, as good as I've ever seen him, and I think he’s a little frustrated because he want to be where he was before it happened right now," Rothschild said. "It’s gonna take a little bit of time but he's not that far off."

Both Rothschild and Girardi chuckled over Hughes' close encounter with the baseball.

"I think it’s a lesson learned," Rothschild said. "When you throw inside you better get it there. He kinda got spanked because he didn’t."

"I thought it hit him in the rear end, but we weren't that fortunate," Girardi said. "I told him that’s why we have a glove."