Yanks ask Hughes to finish Mariners

Yanks ask Hughes to finish Mariners

The youth movement is in full swing.

For the Yankees, that's as frightening a proposition as it is an exciting one. Their starting pitchers for the next two games -- Phil Hughes on Wednesday night, Ian Kennedy on Friday -- are among the youngest in the Majors. They're also among the most talented young pitchers in the game.

Both of them are learning on the fly. And while that may be fine for some other teams, these are the Yankees. This is September. And this is a pennant race. There isn't much room in the Bronx for growing pains.

So all manager Joe Torre can do is hope those pains stay away.

"We have a kid pitching [Wednesday], we have a kid pitching Friday," Torre said. "That's interesting to me. It really is. And again, it's not looking to plug a hole, either. These guys certainly have the capabilities and the temperament and personality to be able to handle this stuff."

Not that the Yankees have much of a choice. With Roger Clemens now on the shelf indefinitely and Mike Mussina far from top form, the Yankees are leaning heavily on some of their greenest personnel.

Wednesday's start goes to Hughes, who hasn't yet lived up to the lofty expectations that pegged him as one of the top pitching prospects in the game. Since returning from the disabled list last month, Hughes has posted a 1-2 record with a 6.40 ERA in six starts.

Hughes' electric stuff hasn't deserted him, and he's still striking out nearly a batter per inning. But he has consistently fallen behind in counts, walking more batters than normal and serving up more hittable pitches when he doesn't. Few rookies hit the ground running in the Majors, and the way Hughes raced through the Minor Leagues, some of the hiccups he's managed to avoided are finally rearing their ugly heads.

"It's something he's going to have to learn to deal with," Torre said. "He really hasn't had to find a way to get through this. This is his first test, and he's doing it at this level, which is pretty unique, but we'll see."

Normally, that would be fine, but in this case, the Yankees need Hughes to learn quickly. Not only are they in a hotly contested pennant race, but they're playing a team that would love nothing more than to knock them out of it. The Mariners have as good a chance as anyone to take hold of the Wild Card lead, and this series marks their best opportunity to make up ground.

They'll try to do just that on Wednesday with a veteran starter, lefty Jarrod Washburn. Yet Washburn has struggled as much as Hughes lately, losing five games in August while posting a 5.35 ERA.

And while the Yankees have seen their offense sputter a bit more than usual lately -- Tuesday's 12-3 win notwithstanding -- there's no reason to think that Washburn -- or anyone, for that matter -- can hold that lineup down for long.

"It's was going to be tough for us to score nine runs a game every day," Torre said. "The important thing is to try and understand that if it continues, yeah it's going to be a struggle for us. But I don't expect it to continue."

Pitching matchup
NYY: RHP Phil Hughes (2-3, 5.65 ERA)
Hughes lost his second straight game last week, suffering from an uncharacteristic lack of control. The rookie walked four and was consistently throwing first-pitch balls, many of which helped set up the seven hits and five runs he allowed. Hughes has never faced the Mariners.

SEA: LHP Jarrod Washburn (9-12, 4.37 ERA)
Washburn suffered through his worst -- and shortest -- outing of the season on Friday, when he allowed six runs in just 3 1/3 innings. Unlike many, though, he may just be happy to see the Yankees. In 10 career starts against them, Washburn holds a 5-4 record with a 2.48 ERA.

Player to watch
One of the few Yankees to hit Washburn with any regularity, Alex Rodriguez has done so with authority. A-Rod boasts a .302 lifetime average off the lefty in 43 at-bats and has gone deep five times.

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Up next
• Thursday: Off-day
• Friday: Yankees (Ian Kennedy, 1-0, 1.29) at Royals (Gil Meche, 7-12, 3.85), 8:10 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 12-8, 3.82) at Royals (Brian Bannister, 12-7, 3.16), 7:10 p.m. ET

Anthony DiComo is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.