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Hughes has no issues with back during 'pen session

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes threw 26 pitches in a bullpen session on Monday and believes he can still be ready to crack the Opening Day roster.

"I was pain-free, which I think is the biggest issue," said Hughes, whose spring was disrupted by a bulging disk in his upper back he suffered on Feb. 18. "Now it's just a matter of getting back into the swing of things.

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"I was a little disappointed with a couple things [in the bullpen], but overall I was happy with the fact that I got through without any issues. That was the biggest thing."

Hughes said that his slider needs more work, but he thinks being ready for Opening Day is not out of the question. Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild agreed that the timeline remains achievable.

"I think it's reasonable," Rothschild said. "We'll be smart about what we're seeing and looking at; take it step by step. If it looks like we need to back off, we'll back off; not necessarily because of the injury, but just because of where he is as far as how much work he's been able to do."

Rothschild said that the Yankees have some wiggle room to shuffle their early pitching if Hughes needs to miss his first turn through the rotation. He said that Hughes' case is helped by the fact that he had reported to Spring Training early and built up some arm strength, so Rothschild believes Hughes should not be too far off from where he was.

"He came down early and was throwing really well," Rothschild said. "He did some good things this winter delivery-wise, and I liked what I was seeing. I was hoping to see him in games, but we got tweaked.

"He's going to jump right back into where he was. That won't be a problem. It's just making sure physically and pitch-wise that he's ready."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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