"I think I've got a clearer mind-set now," Hughes said. "When you start letting other things leak into your head about managerial moves or what's going to happen, it's negative. I just try to think about pitching. One pitch, one game at a time."
Rodriguez provided a sizable chunk of the Yankees' 19-hit attack, shifting out of his Spring Training mode to tie a career high with five hits and drive in four runs, making his return to Texas for the first time since admitting he used performance-enhancing drugs as a member of the Rangers from 2001-03.
"It's been so long -- it's been six years," Rodriguez said. "I love it here. I have a lot of good friends, a lot of support."
A-Rod drove in runs in the first, third and sixth innings to end a bizarre statistical run in which just three of his first 10 hits since coming off the disabled list had been anything but home runs.
"He's just taking his walks and doing what he's supposed to, and if he does get something to hit, he's crushing it," said Mark Teixeira, who scored three runs and drove in two.
Yet after the game, it was Hughes and not Rodriguez who had been selected by Johnny Damon to sling the Yankees' replica wrestling belt over his left shoulder, indicative of that contest's top performer. There was no argument from the three-time American League Most Valuable Player.
"That was real stuff there -- that was very impressive," Rodriguez said of Hughes. "You're talking about a very good lineup on their home field. He pounded the strike zone early on to everybody, and just pitched with a lot of conviction out there today."
The 22-year-old Hughes had everything working as he pitched in Arlington for the first time since since his memorable first big league victory -- a May 1, 2007, outing in which he carried a no-hitter through 6 1/3 innings before leaving with a strained left hamstring.
Girardi was three levels above the dugout that evening, working as a color commentator for the Yankees' YES Network. And as Girardi told coaches in the clubhouse on Monday, the Yankees would have gladly accepted a similar performance without the injury.
"I thought I was going to get to call my no-hitter from somewhere besides home plate," Girardi said. "He was great that day, throwing a lot of strikes. He had a good curveball and a good fastball. It was exciting up in the booth. Then he took a hit when his hamstring popped."
This time, Hughes remained healthy and ventured eight frames to easily log his third victory of the season. Able to throw his fastball, curveball and newly-added cutter for strikes, Hughes limited Texas to three hits while walking one and striking out six.
"I guess I like pitching here a little bit," Hughes said, grinning.
Coming off their 8-2 homestand and a deflating extra-innings loss to the Phillies, the Yankees jumped on Rangers left-hander Matt Harrison for six runs through the first three innings -- as Teixeira said, with a chip on their shoulders as carryover from the Philadelphia series.
The first four New York batters logged hits against Harrison, as Teixeira drilled an RBI double -- one of two RBIs for him -- and Rodriguez beat out a run-scoring infield single, part of his first five-hit game since April 18, 2005, against the Rays.
New York tacked on four more in the third inning, with Rodriguez doubling in a run and Robinson Cano legging out a two-run triple. Nick Swisher also had an RBI groundout in the fourth and a run-scoring single in the sixth to complete the damage against Harrison, who allowed seven runs on 11 hits in five innings, walking one and striking out two.
That was more than enough for Hughes, who navigated out of a first-and-second, none-out situation in the second inning and also stranded a runner at second base in the fourth inning, emerging unscathed.
"That was big," Hughes said of the second inning. "That was definitely an inning where they could have put some things together and scored a couple of runs. I was fortunate to make some good pitches, get some strikeouts and get out of there without a run."
Only the Yankees' 11-run lead and a steamy 84-degree afternoon kept Hughes from a chance at his first big league complete game, Girardi said.
"He didn't want to shake my hand -- he wanted to go back out," Girardi said. "I said, 'You know what, you're going to have plenty of time to get complete games.' I understood he was disappointed, because he wants a complete game. But we're looking at him long-term, not just this start."
And the next start, apparently. Wang's turn in bullpen limbo will continue for the foreseeable future, as Hughes will take his next turn in New York's upcoming four-game series against the Indians. Don't expect the five-man sequence to give Girardi too many sleepless nights.
"The best thing you can have as a manager is really tough decisions -- too many guys throwing well," Girardi said.