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Hughes' struggles spell loss for Yanks

Hughes' struggles spell loss for Yanks

NEW YORK -- Trudging off the Yankee Stadium mound on Tuesday night, the Bronx's brightest hope took only one sideways glance back at the field. He knew that there, just moments earlier, so many runs had ruined his pitching line and chipped his reputation -- but no matter. Phil Hughes also knew that he would return to pitch another day.

Just which day, however, wasn't quite clear.

"I think it's fair to discuss it," general manager Brian Cashman said of the prospect of temporarily removing Hughes from the Yankees rotation. "So we'll discuss it."

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They haven't done so yet, but Hughes certainly gave them another reason to on Tuesday, his latest -- and perhaps his shakiest -- outing of the year, spurring a 6-4 Yankees loss to the Tigers. It marked his fourth straight loss to open this season, and his team's sixth in four games. Just growing pains, say the Yankees, still avoiding the ugly truth about that excuse.

Growing pains have a tendency to hurt.

So there were the Yankees on Tuesday night, answering questions of just whether or not Hughes might be back to make his next turn in the rotation. It's the same old dilemma for these Yankees, who remain torn between winning pennants now and developing talent for the future. Of all their young stars, Hughes seemed the least likely to struggle, given his success as a rookie and his sheer level of his talent. That's why a trip to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre might seem almost foreign to him. Hughes was supposed to be here to stay.

"The mound is just as far away in Triple-A as it is here," Hughes said. "Maybe I wouldn't get hit as hard down there, but there are still some things I need to work out."

It's not Hughes's decision anyway, he noted, still smarting from the eight hits and three walks he allowed to the Tigers over 3 2/3 innings on Tuesday. The choice instead rests with Cashman, with manager Joe Girardi, with the rest of the Yankees brass. It's something they'll consider, regardless of how much of a reality it might be.

"We continue to discuss things all the time," Girardi said. "For Phil, he's got to fight. It's not easy up here, and you have to make adjustments and make your pitches. That's something that we talk about as an organization. We don't talk about it openly."

What Girardi would discuss was his pitcher's performance and this one -- like most of them this season -- wasn't quite what he expected. Hughes walked Tigers outfielder Curtis Granderson to lead off the game and never recovered, allowing two runs to score in that inning alone. Gary Sheffield hit a two-run homer to sink Hughes in the third inning, before three straight baserunners spelled the end of Hughes' day in the fourth.

Both pitcher and manager attributed the hiccups to location problems confounded by one small quirk. Hughes admitted after the game to night vision troubles -- something that's affected him throughout his time with the Yankees. On this evening, Hughes missed several signs from catcher Chris Stewart, one of them directly leading to Tigers runs.

It's something that's always only bothered Hughes at night, and that he and the Yankees have only discussed in passing. Despite making two unscheduled trips to his eye doctor over the past two years, Hughes hasn't yet seriously considered the prospect of wearing goggles or contact lenses that might improve his vision. Perhaps until now.

Then again, Hughes says he's always had that problem, so he's not about to use it as an excuse. He remembers the old dominant Phil -- the guy who breezed through two full Minor League seasons with nary a scratch on his resume -- who rarely had to worry.

His counterpart on Tuesday, Tigers starter Kenny Rogers, noted some precedent there, staring out at Hughes and seeing a piece of himself. Sure, he was logging Minor League innings before Hughes was even born, but Rogers still recalled the feeling.

"I feel for him to a certain degree, but he'll be better when he goes through this," Rogers said. "He's going to be fine. Guys with his caliber of pitches don't grow on trees. Just give him time. It's not easy, and it's harder now than it's ever been."

Especially considering the demands. Hughes plays in a market that demands perfection -- or at least darn close to it -- and so far this year, Hughes hasn't come close.

He's also not alone in his struggles, though at least he can hope for immediate improvement. So many others on this banged-up Yankees team can't. There's Alex Rodriguez, whom the Yankees are preparing to place on the disabled list with a strained right quad. There's Jorge Posada, who's already there for the first time in his career. There's Brian Bruney, who might yet have surgery on his ailing right foot.

Even the positives, at least on Tuesday, were soaked in doubt. Robinson Cano hit a home run, but a quick glance at the stat sheet showed he's hitting only .155. Ross Ohlendorf struck out five batters over 3 1/3 innings of relief, but that left questions of who might log relief innings in the immediate future. And so there are the Yankees, suddenly searching for possible replacements for Rodriguez, Bruney -- and yes, even Hughes.

"It's extremely difficult to come out early in your career and have success, especially in a place like this," Rogers said. "There's really no room for error."

Still, Hughes and the Yankees might have to make room nonetheless.

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

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