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Sunday, July 17, 2011
Updated: July 18, 9:11 AM ET
Hughes takes major step for Yankees

By Andrew Marchand
ESPNNewYork.com

TRANSACTIONS: The New York Yankees have acquired a 25-year-old, 2010 All-Star. He is right-handed with a low-90's fastball, a cutter and a hard curve. The Yankees gave up nothing in the trade.

TORONTO -- About two hours before Phil Hughes unleashed his new-and-improved curveball, Yankees manager Joe Girardi described what an excellent start from Hughes would mean.

"It is almost like making a trade," Girardi said.

With the Ubaldo Jimenez rumors becoming more intense, Hughes finally showed up this season. He threw six innings of two-run ball. He gave up just four hits, walked two and struck out five.

Hughes started a regular-season game and won for the first time since September. He looked like the 2010 All-Star Hughes.

"I thought he took a big step today," Girardi said after the Yankees finished off a four-game series split with a 7-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

Hughes felt a sense of relief, but he also thinks he has got more where Sunday came from. In the first half, he knows he let down his team and himself, going 0-2 with a 10.57 ERA.

"I wish I didn't take this long to get my first one," Hughes said.

Hughes, though, is adjusting. His new curve comes in about three miles faster than the old loopey one. He releases it from the same plain as his fastball, making it difficult for batters to recognize, especially because it arrives in the mid-to-upper 70s. It could be a difference-maker.

He found it by playing around with his grip during a bullpen session before the break.

On Sunday, he got each and everyone of his first five outs on the curve.

Hughes
Phil Hughes picked up his first win since Oct. 2, 2010.

He gave up a single in the first, but highlighted the scoreless inning with a three-pitch takedown of Eric Thames, sandwiching two of his new curves around a 91-mph fastball.

Hughes owned Thames all day striking him out three times.

In the fourth, Hughes gave up a run, but as though he were mad about it, he ended the inning with a ferocious strikeout of J.P. Arencibia, using an 88-mph cutter and two 91-mph fastballs. Hughes'

"There was some life behind the ball," catcher Russell Martin said. "I don't know what the radar gun said, but it was jumping out of his hand. From what I've seen in the past, that is what he is used to doing."

Hughes maintained his velocity throughout his six innings and could have added a seventh but Girardi wanted to preserve him because he hadn't started in 11 days and a heat wave hit the top-down Rogers Centre.

Hughes petitioned to stay in, but Girardi had the final call. Hughes had done enough.

He needed these six quality innings badly because with Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia beginning the second half slowly, the Yankees must have some good starts around CC Sabathia.

If Hughes failed again, then the calls may have been for Ivan Nova to come back. Instead Hughes boarded the Yankees' flight to Tampa feeling good.

One start does not give Yankees GM Brian Cashman more leverage in his Jimenez talks with Colorado's GM Dan O'Dowd, but if Hughes can put together two more before the end of the month, then maybe Cashman can hold his minor league cards.

Next up is Rafael Soriano. Soriano will throw a rehab game on Tuesday for Class A Tampa and after a few more minor league spots he could be back in the big leagues.

"Hopefully, we can get Soriano back and that is like adding somebody through a trade as well," Girardi said.

Hughes took an initial step on Sunday, but he is a long way still from being the 18-game winner he was a year ago.

"It is not 18, but it is a start," Hughes said.

It is a start, a quality start. It is Hughes' first one since Sept. 26.

NOTES: Brett Gardner stole two bags and now has one swiped 12 straight. Gardner had three hits on the day. … Derek Jeter received the day off because the Yankees are playing eight straight games on turf. … With Jeter off, Girardi put Eduardo Nunez at short and Ramiro Pena at third. … Jorge Posada played first base, while Mark Teixeira DHed. To end the third, Posada couldn't find the bag on a potential groundout, but the runner Yunel Escobar missed first as well. So Posada tagged him out. … The Yankees are in Tampa for four games, starting with A. J. Burnett (8-7, 4.15) vs. Alex Cobb (2-0, 3.41). … Before the Yankees had to leave for their bus to their airport, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and Mark Teixeira watched the end of the U.S. Women's World Cup final intently. There was a big cheer when the U.S. scored their first goal.