Notes: Return to hill excites Hughes

Notes: Return to hill excites Hughes

NEW YORK -- The last time Phil Hughes was on a Major League mound, he whipped a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Nobody expects him to pick up where he left off, but the Yankees are ready to accept whatever he offers.

The 21-year-old right-hander, widely regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, is scheduled to face the Royals on Saturday in his third big-league start and first since May 1.

"I'm pretty excited," Hughes said. "It's been a long time. It's good to finally have an opportunity to be back at this level again, after being off for so long and all of the rehab starts. I'm looking forward to it."

Hughes suffered a strained left hamstring after delivering a pitch with one out in the seventh inning of that memorable game at Texas, and he would likely have returned to the big leagues much sooner had he not rolled his left ankle on May 25 while performing conditioning drills in Tampa, Fla.

The injury turned out to be a severe sprain, setting Hughes back to begin his five-start rehabilitation regimen in early July with the Class A Tampa Yankees.

Hughes completed the Triple-A phase of his rehab in strong fashion, earning honors as the International League Pitcher of the Week after going 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA over 12 2/3 innings against Louisville and Rochester.

That success leads Yankees manager Joe Torre to believe he is receiving a capable product to effectively replace the since-demoted Kei Igawa as New York's fifth starter.

"They weren't going to turn him loose unless he was physically capable," Torre said. "He should be ready to go full-bore."

Hughes said that he has made an effort to block out thoughts of the high expectations many Yankees fans hold for him, and Torre sidestepped a question about that same topic, reasoning that most devoted followers understand Hughes' youth and need to grow.

Still, Hughes believes that what will be his second Yankee Stadium start will come at a more enjoyable time than the first, his debut performance on April 26 vs. Toronto, because the Yankees are in far more favorable shape than they had been at that early stage.

"If anything, it'll be better, because we're playing better ball now and scoring some runs," Hughes said. "Hopefully, I can get somewhat close to the last three games we've had, [when the Yankees scored 33 runs]. If we can do that, I think it'll be all right."

Jo-Po no-go: Jorge Posada was held out of the lineup for Friday's game against Kansas City after suffering a left knee bruise in the top of the seventh inning on Thursday, blocking the plate against Chicago's Danny Richar.

Posada had hoped to be available, but his knee still proved too swollen for comfortable action. Backup catcher Jose Molina made the start instead, receiving Chien-Ming Wang, and Torre said that Posada would remain a possibility to catch on Saturday.

"I don't think we have a lot of concern," Torre said. "It may still be sore tomorrow. It's just a little puffiness in his knee."

'Big G' lets loose: Jason Giambi homered in his first at-bat for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Friday, slugging an opposite-field home run before finishing the first game of a doubleheader against Rochester 1-for-2 with two walks.

Giambi, who may join the Yankees in Toronto as early as Tuesday, went 0-for-1 with two walks in the nightcap, playing first base before leaving for a pinch-runner in the sixth inning. He played five rehab games with Class A Tampa, batting .308 (4-for-13) with one RBI.

Shelley gets right: With Bobby Abreu sitting against Kansas City left-hander Odalis Perez, against whom he has fared a dismal 3-for-27 during his career, rookie slugger Shelley Duncan made his first career start in right field.

Some two hours north, it was pointed out, Jason Giambi was preparing for rehab action with the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees -- a continuing comeback that could eventually threaten Duncan's spot on the roster. Duncan said he is blocking out any such thoughts and simply hoped to focus on putting on a good show.

"You have a shorter porch, which means that you have a better chance if a ball goes off the wall to hold those guys to a single," Duncan said. "There's the way the corner plays, and not much foul room. That's about it. Otherwise, it's just baseball."

Torre has been impressed with Duncan, who has slugged five home runs in five Yankee Stadium games entering play on Friday. Torre originally pegged Duncan as simply a "wild swinger" who hacked at pitches and occasionally made contact, but he has been proven wrong by Duncan's ability to work a walk and take pitches the opposite way.

"He's more than I thought he was," Torre said.

Livin' on a prayer: Musician Jon Bon Jovi caused a stir near the Yankees' dugout on Friday, taking in batting practice as a personal guest of Torre. Several Yankees, including Roger Clemens and Johnny Damon, stopped by to shake hands and greet the rocker, who released his 10th studio album, "Lost Highway," in June.

"I'm more of a football guy, but I like the Yankees," Bon Jovi said. "I get to one game a year if I'm lucky."

Bon Jovi said he reached out to Torre as a reward for a nephew, Doug Flynn, who was celebrating a graduation. Torre joked that it sounded familiar -- Torre's Mets clubs in the late 1970s and early '80s featured a light-hitting middle infielder by the same name.

Bombers bits: Wilson Betemit is still waiting for his first baseman's glove to arrive, but that didn't stop him from taking ground balls on Friday, borrowing leather from Doug Mientkiewicz. Betemit was coached by Torre, Don Mattingly, Larry Bowa and Tony Pena, though the Yankees have no set plans to work him into games. ... Betemit was the first Yankees player since Andy Phillips to hit a homer in his first plate appearance. Phillips did it on Sept. 26, 2004, at Boston. ... Mientkiewicz took 30 dry swings and 30 ground balls on Thursday and continued work on Friday. He is scheduled to report to Legends Field on Monday.

Coming up: Hughes makes his return to the big leagues as the Yankees play the second game of three with the Royals on Saturday. Right-hander Kyle Davies (4-8, 5.76 ERA with Atlanta) makes his Kansas City and American League debut after being acquired for Octavio Dotel, with first pitch set for 1:05 p.m. ET on the YES Network.

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