Yanks cautious with pitchers batting

Yanks cautious with pitchers batting

NEW YORK -- After enduring his first mediocre start of the season, Phil Hughes is eager to get back on the mound on Saturday. Getting into the batter's box for his first career at-bat, however, might be a different story.

"I'll probably be nine feet out of the batter's box," Hughes said before Friday night's Interleague opener against the Mets at Citi Field. "Once I get the first one out of the way, it'll probably be a little better."

Hughes hasn't been to the plate in six years, since he was a high schooler in Santa Ana, Calif. Even then, the right-hander said, he wasn't exactly a great hitter.

"I was a hitting third baseman; I don't know about a hard-hitting third baseman," Hughes said. "I could hit an 85-mph fastball. But if you threw a breaking ball at me, I was done."

Hughes and the Yankees' other pitchers have been taking batting practice over the past week to prepare for Interleague Play. Hughes has spent most of that time working on his bunting. When asked if he could get a sacrifice bunt down, Hughes said, "I can try."

You don't have to think too far back to remember key at-bats by Yankees pitchers. Just last year, Mariano Rivera worked out a bases-loaded walk from Francisco Rodriguez for his first career RBI -- on the night he recorded his 500th save -- and Andy Pettitte drove in a run with a bloop single in Game 3 of the World Series in Philadelphia.

At the same time, Yankees manager Joe Girardi is a little concerned about seeing his pitching staff put in unfamiliar territory at the plate and on the basepaths.

"It's not something you do on an everyday basis," Girardi said. "Even being a National League manager, you felt like it was a catch-22 with a pitcher on. You wanted the pitcher to get on, but you didn't want him having to score from first on a double and feeling like they're worn out for a few pitches in the next inning.

"That could be the difference in the game. Last year we came through great; in '08 we did not."

Girardi was, of course, alluding to Chien-Ming Wang's injury in Houston in 2008, suffered while scoring from second base on a Derek Jeter single. Wang missed the final 3 1/2 months of the season and wasn't able to regain his form in '09.

The Yankees have put their pitchers through baserunning drills more frequently since then, so Hughes' main concern remains standing in the box against his counterpart on the mound, Mets righty Mike Pelfrey.

"It should be interesting -- I'll swing hard and hope I hit something," Hughes said, adding that he hopes the six bats he ordered during Spring Training are enough. "I just hope [Pelfrey] doesn't drill me tomorrow in my first AB."

-- Tim Britton