After pitching BP, Hughes expresses optimism

After pitching BP, Hughes expresses optimism

TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes threw 26 pitches in a batting-practice session on Thursday and said that he believes it is still possible to be ready for the beginning of the regular season.

Hughes was sidelined last month with a bulging disk in his upper back, suffered while covering first base during fielding drills. He said that he felt no physical issues during Thursday's session at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

"I was a hair off with my command, but I sort of anticipated that with not having been in a somewhat adrenaline-filled pitching scenario," Hughes said. "Other that that, I felt great. I felt like the ball was coming out pretty good, so that's a first step."

Hughes said that he felt "excited" to be back on the mound for the session, which was watched by manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Hughes pitched to Minor League hitters Addison Maruszak and Walter Ibarra.

"I hadn't been out there in so long," Hughes said. "It's good to actually face a hitter for the first time since last [year's] playoffs. It was a good feeling."

Hughes' next outing is expected to come on Monday in a simulated game, and Girardi said that he needs to see Hughes prepared to make 90 to 100 pitches to consider giving him a regular-season start.

With that in mind, it is possible that Hughes could miss the first turn through the rotation during the regular season, allowing either Ivan Nova or David Phelps to make a spot start in his place while Hughes builds up in a Minor League outing.

"I'd rather it be one start than a bunch than pile up if I'm not right when I get back," Hughes said.

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.