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Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Hughes Rules take toll as Phil rocked

By Andrew Marchand
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The counterargument to the screamers who hate the Phil Hughes Rules will stand on a mound 3,000 miles away from the one in the Bronx on which Hughes imploded Tuesday night.

On the campus of USC on Wednesday, Mark Prior, now 29, will throw for scouts as he tries to make yet another comeback. In 2003, when he was just 22, then-Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker didn't show any prudence and allowed Prior to fire nearly 240 innings, including the postseason. Prior was never the same and now has not pitched in the majors in four years.

That cautionary tale aside, the anti-Hughes Rules screamers got a pretty strong Exhibit A on Tuesday night. After Hughes had looked like an All-Star all season, the Yankees had him skip a start and take a 10-day siesta before facing the Seattle Mariners' Cliff Lee.

Phil Hughes
Phil Hughes walks off the mound Tuesday having coughed up six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.

Hughes came out and gave up seven runs (six earned) on a career-worst 10 hits and couldn't make it through six innings. The runs were the most that he has given up all season and his most ever in the Bronx.

The Hughes Rules seem like such an obvious culprit, even the manager weighed in with some uncharacteristic candor.

"I think you can look at that say, 'It's possible, yeah,'" said Joe Girardi after his team's 7-4 loss to the Mariners. "But we are looking over the long haul and we are not just looking at this start."

Rules or no, the 24-year-old Hughes has not pitched well lately. Hughes has allowed 36 runs this season, 18 of them in his first 10 starts. In his last four outings, including Tuesday night's seven-spot, he has given up just as many. Hughes doesn't think skipping his start had any impact Tuesday.

"Not at all," said Hughes, whose record dropped to 10-2 and whose ERA crept up to 3.58.

Hughes, who will pitch on regular rest again at least until the All-Star break, said he agreed with the innings limit philosophy that will cap him around 175 in the regular season, but he didn't explain why he agrees with it. Prior to the game, Girardi went out of his way to say that Hughes is handling the Rules well.

"I watch how he is walking around and carrying out his business," Girardi said. "I don't see a long face, because it has to be really difficult. I'm thinking if I'm in his shoes, and I'm 10-1 and they are asking me to skip a start, it is probably going to be really hard."

Girardi never brought up Joba Chamberlain's name, but he didn't have to. Chamberlain started the second half last season as the best starting pitcher in baseball. He was 3-0 with a 0.83 ERA in his first three outings.

He then spent August like a yo-yo, not knowing when he would start. He said the right things, but the irregular schedule may have thrown him off and changed the course of his season and career. He finished the month 1-2 with an 8.22 ERA and now is a setup man.

On Tuesday, the cutter was the problem pitch, Hughes said, while his fastball didn't have its normal explosion, which was odd because he said he felt "stronger" with the extra rest. "He couldn't get the big out when he needed it," Girardi said.

Still, Girardi has faith in the Rules. He even evoked last year's championship to show the Yankees have a master plan that works.

"His health is the most important thing for the long term," Girardi said. "Those are decisions we have looked long and hard at and they have done a lot of research on it. We don't want to see this kid have to miss two months, six months, a year because he is overworked. We had to go through it with Joba last year. We have to go through it with [Hughes] somewhat, but not as strict.

"It is also called developing people. Because they have been able to help us at this level and help us win a championship, we need to develop them. We could have sent Hughes down last year and just kept him as a starter, but I'm not so sure we would have won a championship. That's what the Yankees do: We win championships."

That is a time-tested tradition. The new, more controversial one is implementing Rules for young stud starters -- and all the arguments that go with it.

GAME NOTES: Nick Swisher had two homers off Cliff Lee. With 13, he is tied with Mark Teixeira for second on the team behind Robinson Cano (15). ... Teixeira extended his hitting streak to 10 games. Curtis Granderson had two hits off a lefty for the first time this season. ... Javy Vazquez faces Felix Hernandez on Wednesday night.

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

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