Hughes shows promise despite loss

Hughes shows promise despite loss

NEW YORK -- The Yankees' original plan was to have Phil Hughes, clad in pinstripes, sitting on the bench for a game at Yankee Stadium and soaking in the atmosphere.

Mother Nature had other plans, washing out Wednesday's contest and abbreviating the Yankees' series with the Blue Jays to a lone game. Maybe that was just as well for Hughes, who was restless to get on the mound and get his Major League debut out of the way.

"I woke up earlier than I would have liked to, and I tried to sleep as much as I could," said the 20-year-old Hughes. "There's nothing that can really prepare you for anything like this."

So while Hughes tossed and turned into the afternoon hours, he had nothing but time to burn until he performed a toss of another kind at 7:08 p.m. ET, throwing his first pitch to Toronto's Alex Rios.

At 20 years and 306 days of age, Hughes became the youngest Yankees draft pick to appear with the big-league club since Derek Jeter in 1995.

But age wasn't on the hurler's mind as he paused for a brief moment of reflection behind the mound at Yankee Stadium, trying as hard as he could to soak in a snapshot of a moment that would soon fly by in a 4 1/3-inning effort.

"I don't think you can ever really know," Hughes said. "But if I had to guess, I'd say I was probably feeling about the same [as expected]. You only go through it once."

His first big-league hitter, Rios, singled to left and stole second before Hughes recorded his first of five strikeouts against a familiar face, Adam Lind, who -- like Hughes -- was toiling in Double-A ball a year ago.

As the inning continued, Hughes grooved a pitch to Vernon Wells for a RBI single to center, then received the lesson that rookies whisper about behind closed doors -- indeed, Major League strike zones seem to stretch with experience.

A fastball off the corner to Frank Thomas didn't even deserve a second sniff from home-plate umpire Ed Montague, who ruled it a ball. Thomas followed in the at-bat by ripping a RBI single to right, bringing home the second run of the first inning.

"Jitters or not, I made bad pitches. That's the bottom line," Hughes said. "Maybe if I go back and do it all over again, it's going to be a different outcome, but it's still my first game at Yankee Stadium. I'm going to be a little nervous."

Hughes settled in during his seven-hit, one-walk performance, blanking Toronto over the next three innings. In that span, teammates spotted signs of a person who belongs in The Show.

"I liked what I saw," Johnny Damon said. "He's going to be a good pitcher for a long time. I hope I get the opportunity to keep playing behind him. I think he's shown enough to me that he deserves to be in the big leagues."

Hughes would eventually run into some trouble in the fifth -- not all of it by his own doing.

The frame opened as John McDonald legged out an infield hit that might not have been, as Doug Mientkiewicz was ruled to have come off the bag to receive shortstop Miguel Cairo's throw; television replays were inconclusive.

McDonald stole second and Rios followed with an RBI single to center, drawing pitching coach Ron Guidry to the mound while reliever Brian Bruney readied in the Yankees' bullpen.

"I threw a few good curveballs and some changeups, but I was falling behind so much that I really didn't have too many opportunities to throw offspeed pitches," Hughes said. "That first-pitch strike is always big."

After a third strikeout of Lind and a run-scoring hit to Wells, Hughes was walking off the mound to a standing ovation and choruses of his last name that resembled boos, but inside, Hughes wasn't really listening.

"I didn't know if they were booing me, but I figured it was 'Hughes,'" he said. "I thought that was kind of cool."

He admitted to mostly ignoring the crowd in favor of his in-mind replays, already dissecting what he'd done right and -- more importantly -- what he'd done wrong.

"I'll try to put it behind me, I guess," said Hughes, who kept the lineup card as a memento. "I took a couple of positive things, but, for the most part, I've just got to put it in the past."

The Yankees have not yet decided what lies ahead for Hughes, with his callup to the Bronx intended for one start at least, patching a hole in a rotation that has been far too riddled to begin the season.

That said, Thursday's performance didn't hurt his cause in the eyes of his teammates, who are eager to see what the future holds for "Phil Franchise."

"I was impressed," Mientkiewicz said. "He had a lot of command, he wasn't afraid to go in on guys. Sometimes young guys have a phobia about that, but he was attacking the strike zone.

"You can tell he's got a lot of confidence in his stuff, and he should. He's got electric stuff, and hopefully we get him his first win in his next start."

Indeed, Hughes could find himself on the mound in Arlington, Texas, next week at Rangers Ballpark, but the possibility remains that he could be wearing a Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees uniform once more.

The No. 65 jersey he wore in Triple-A has been held in reserve, but manager Dave Miley and pitching coach Dave Eiland haven't been shy about telling Hughes that they don't want to see him back in northeast Pennsylvania again.

"We're going to talk about that, but I certainly wasn't disappointed or thinking that he was out of his league," manager Joe Torre said.

Hughes didn't exactly cement that on Thursday, but his first 91 pitches in a Yankees uniform seemed to give those in the organization plenty of reasons to anticipate watching thousands more down the road.

"Let's admit it: it's still something new for him, so it's an adjustment period," Torre said. "But he's going to be a special kid. You've got to have the first one sometime, and I'm sure he'll learn from today and move forward."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.