Hughes focused on healing back for long term

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes resumed playing catch on Sunday, making 25 tosses at a distance of 60 feet, and called it "a positive first step" toward getting back on the mound.

Hughes has been sidelined with a bulging disk in his upper back that he first felt while covering first base in a fielding drill on Feb. 18.

"For the first day, they didn't want me to go crazy, especially in the cold," Hughes said. "25 easy throws and we'll ramp it up from there."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi has acknowledged the possibility that Hughes might not be ready to begin the season, and Hughes said that he cannot afford to have any more setbacks this spring.

"I know that I have to get four or five starts, and every day that I'm not throwing or not on the mound is another day that it's harder to get going again," Hughes said.

"I just have to take it slow, but I figure that it's not the worst thing in the world to miss a little bit of time now [rather] than have this be an issue going forward."

Hughes said that he has been receiving heat and massage therapy to treat the back issue, as well as doing a back strengthening and stretching program. Asked to gauge his discomfort on a scale of one to 10, Hughes replied, "Zero. There's nothing in that area anymore."

If Hughes has to stay behind in Florida to open the season, the Yankees figure to have a built-in insurance plan because they can have the loser of the Ivan Nova-David Phelps fifth-starter competition make a spot start for the first turn through the rotation.