Phil Hughes may start throwing program

NEW YORK -- Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes is tentatively scheduled to pick up a baseball for the first time in more than two weeks on Thursday. He hopes that the velocity on his floundering fastball will return soon thereafter.

"I'm confident. I know it just didn't just disappear," Hughes said of his fastball velocity. "... I'm confident it will be there."

The Yankees placed Hughes on the disabled list on April 15 with what the team called "dead arm" after his fastball dipped from the 94-92 mph range he usually reaches to just 89-91 mph this season. The Yankees forced Hughes to shut down an earlier throwing program on April 25 and later classified his injury as shoulder inflammation.

Hughes said on Monday that his shoulder has responded well to a cortisone shot administered on April 28, which relieved some muscle inflammation around his shoulder. He hopes to begin a throwing program on Thursday but will be examined by a doctor once more before he gets the green light.

"I'm real excited to get going and hopefully this is the issue and we can move on," Hughes said.

The Yankees hope the 24-year-old right-hander will be back on the mound in six to eight weeks.

Hughes saw a specialist in St. Louis who ruled out the possibility that he has thoracic outlet syndrome, a serious and potentially career-threatening condition.

He also underwent at least two MRIs, both of which the Yankees say came back negative, as well as several doppler vascular tests to map the blood flow to his pitching arm. Hughes is hopeful that he and the team can put the velocity issue behind them.

"It's tough. I didn't want to have to go through this. But something wasn't right so I had to figure out what it was," said Hughes, who worked with a physical therapist to strengthen his shoulder in New York while the Yanks were on the road last week. "I'm just happy to be plugging forward and not going through any more tests. Hopefully I'll be throwing in a couple days."

Hughes, who was voted an American League All-Star last season, struggled mightily in three starts in 2011. He went 0-1 with a 13.94 ERA and allowed at least five runs and pitched fewer than five innings in each start, just the third Yankees starter in the live ball era to do so. He also gave up 16 runs on 19 hits (four home runs) in 10 1/3 innings, striking out just three.

Bartolo Colon (2-1, 3.86 ERA) replaced Hughes in the rotation.

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.