Broadway came to the Hardware City when Phil Hughes made his second rehab assignment in his quest to rejoin to the New York Yankees starting rotation, this time for the Trenton Thunder against the New Britain Rock Cats. Celebrating his 25th birthday, Hughes threw 72 pitches—42 of them for strikes—in 3.1 innings before a sellout crowd of 7,664 at New Britain Stadium on Friday night.
This past Sunday, Hughes made his first rehab start for the Staten Island Yankees of the Low-A New York-Penn League—the same circuit the Connecticut Tigers play in. In that game (played in Brooklyn vs. the Cyclones), Hughes went 4.1 innings, threw 61 pitches (41 for strikes), and averaged in the low 90s, topping out at 95 mph. His only bad pitch in that game was his last one—a change-up which Brooklyn’s Nelfi Zapata drove over the leftfield wall.
Last night, he retired the first seven men that he faced and worked his way out of a third-inning jam in which he gave up double and issued a walk. His fastball topped out at 94 mph—which is where he was throwing last year when he won 18 games and was named to the American League All-Star Team.
Runs were scarce for both teams. Trenton broke the 1-1 tie in the top of the ninth on a Jose Pirela sacrifice fly, but the Rock Cats answered back with two runs in the bottom of the ninth to take the win and improve to 49-30. Trenton fell to 41-31.
“I talked to Cash [Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman, who was in attendance at New Britain Stadium], and he said [Hughes] wasn’t as sharp as his last start; he threw a lot of pitches in 3 1/3 innings,” said Yankee skipper Joe Girardi. “He wasn’t hit hard, but he just wasn’t as sharp.”
Hughes agrees with Girardi’s assessment.
“It wasn’t as good as my first [rehab start], but it was still a step in the right direction,” said the perfectionist Hughes. “My velocity was, from what I gathered, pretty good, and it is certainly a lot better than [earlier in the year], so that’s good.”
Hughes will now return to New York and throw in the Yankees bullpen before making his third rehab start, again for Trenton, scheduled for Wednesday in Trenton vs. the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. After that, the timing of his return to the Yankees’ rotation is anyone’s guess.
“It’s hard to say,” Hughes said. “One or two more [rehab starts] I guess would be the plan, but it’s not really my call.”
According the Girardi, the Yankees will recall Hughes when the club feels he’s ready. But barring a blockbuster deal prior to the trading deadline, the Yankees’ suddenly fragile starting rotation is in dire need for Hughes to return to the rotation and put up similar numbers to those produced last year.
Then again, has El Capitan spoken with Andy Pettitte lately?