"Ready is not just a pitch limit," Girardi said about Pettitte, who is slated to throw 45-50 pitches on Sunday. "Ready is how you're throwing the baseball in a sense, too. We have to evaluate that. We'll cross that bridge when we have to, and right now, we don't have to. We just want the guys to go out and throw the baseball the way they're capable of."
That didn't happen on Saturday, as Hughes struggled into the fourth inning and threw 84 pitches to record 10 outs. He was removed after Howard Kendrick blasted a three-run home run, the second Los Angles homer off Hughes during his short outing. He allowed six runs on eight hits and is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA through two starts this season.
On Tuesday night at Baltimore, Freddy Garcia uncorked five wild pitches that accounted for three runs. He left with two outs in the fifth inning and the Orioles leading, 4-0. The Orioles had multiple problems of their own in that one, and the Yankees came back to win, 5-4, in 12 innings, thanks to 7 1/3 innings of two-hit ball from six relievers. The veteran Garcia threw 98 pitches.
Hughes and Garcia may have been stopgap measures anyway until Pettitte is operational and 23-year-old right-hander Michael Pineda returns from right shoulder tendinitis. The Yankees shut down Pineda near the end of Spring Training, and on Saturday, Girardi said he didn't have a status report. When those two are able to return, serious decisions will have to be made.
"If something pops where somebody is ready, I think you evaluate how the guys are throwing at the time," Girardi said after Saturday's game. "You don't rush to judgment. You look at Pineda and you expect him to get back to the form he had last year, and you look at an Andy Pettitte and you expect him to get back to the form of 2010 when he left us, but there are no guarantees. The only thing a pitcher can do is worry about his next start."
Just to be clear, Girardi said the onus is not completely on Hughes and Garcia. Even CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda aren't secure in their rotation spots, although Nova and Kuroda were particularly effective and efficient in their most recent starts.
"Nobody is set," Girardi said. "As Yankees, we're about winning, and we're going to go with the best five guys when it's that time. What is this, April 14, and we're talking about our rotation? We're 4-4. We're not 0-8. People are getting a little ahead of themselves."
In 2011, the Yankees received great work from the 35-year-old Garcia, who was 12-8 with a 3.62 ERA in 26 starts. Garcia helped fill the gap when Hughes went on the disabled list on April 15 and missed 84 games because of right shoulder inflammation. He made only 14 starts, coming off an 18-8 season in 2010.
Hughes lost velocity on his fastball last year, when he opened 0-1 with a 13.94 ERA in his first three starts, leading to a stint on the 60-day disabled list. During Spring Training, the right-hander threw well enough to believe that was all behind him. Now, he's pitching without pain but has hit another glitch.
"It's tough," Hughes said. "When we broke camp, I felt good about my stuff. Things just haven't gone the way I liked. How have I dealt with all the ups and downs? As well as I can, I think. I just try to keep a good attitude, keep working hard and hope that things will turn around."
The Yankees have been waiting for the 25-year-old Hughes to fully develop since 2008, when he was among a trio of promising young hurlers that included Joba Chamberlain and Ian Kennedy. Only Kennedy has emerged, but not in New York. The right-hander has blossomed in Arizona, where he was 21-4 with a 2.84 ERA and a candidate for the National League Cy Young Award last season. Kennedy has picked up where he left off, having won his first two starts this season for the D-backs.
Chamberlain, 26, is on the disabled list after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and sustaining an open dislocation of his right ankle. The right-hander hasn't pitched since last June 5.
Girardi is wondering if Hughes will ever fulfill his immense promise.
"I don't think you win  games by accident," Girardi said. "But obviously, that question is going to be asked because of what we went through last year with him. His arm strength is back. To me, it's just making better pitches. We need him to do that."
Meanwhile, Pettitte is working his way back, and the Yankees are waiting.