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Phil Hughes works on changes needs chance

Phil Hughes on the spring training battle that might alter the course of his life:

    "I'm out of the reliever mind-set for right now," Hughes said. "So I'll go in and do what I'm used to doing and see how it plays out."If Hughes wins the job, he would have to deal with his own version of the "Joba Rules," although Chamberlain is free of those restrictions for the first time in his career.

    "Just a guess, I'd assume it'd be around 175-180 innings, but that's pure speculation," said Hughes, who threw 86 innings last season before the playoffs. "I haven't been told. With any young guy, there is going to be some innings consideration."

    After playing catch with righthander Christian Garcia yesterday, Hughes chatted with pitching coach Dave Eiland, who told Hughes that he must commit to mastering his changeup, telling the 23-year-old "it's a pitch that needs to be thrown."

    Hughes considers the change his fourth pitch right now and noted that its development has been hampered by injuries and his relief stint last season. He did not throw it as a reliever at all in '09, he said, but he knows it's a weapon against lefthanded hitters, especially those looking to pull a ball over the Stadium's short porch in right.

Changeups are cute and all, but there have always been plenty of good starting pitchers without a reliable changeup. There have always been plenty of good starting pitchers with two reliable pitches: a good fastball and a good breaking ball (slider or curveball). Some good pitchers spend much of their careers searching for a good changeup, and some never quite find it.

Which isn't to suggest that Hughes shouldn't work on his. But he's in a tough position. Does he throw a changeup with the bases loaded in a game next month, knowing that just a few errant pitches in spring training might inflate his ERA to the point where the Yankees will have an easy excuse to send him to the bullpen?

This is the trouble with making decisions based on March performance: the sample sizes are tiny and players are sometimes trying to do things they won't necessarily do when the real games start. I think it's okay to tell players that jobs are on the line in spring training -- you do want them working diligently -- but I also think spring-training numbers should be a tiny part of the decision-making process.

Oh, and about the "innings consideration" for "any young guy"? This is a relatively recent development. Hughes is 23. When Dwight Gooden was 20 he threw 277 innings. When Steve Avery was 21 he threw 210 innings. In the last five seasons, though, only two pitchers younger than 23 threw 200 innings: Matt Cain, with 200 on the nose; and Felix Hernandez, with 200 and 2/3. Things really are different today. Has anyone documented fewer injuries?