Hughes plays Yanks' stopper in nightcap
Three-game skid ends with righty's seven shutout innings
DETROIT -- Whatever chances the Tigers had of interrupting Phil Hughes' dazzling season seemed to disappear after a few innings on Wednesday night, when the Yankees right-hander discovered that his curveball was dropping in for strikes with consistent success.
From that point on, Hughes stepped into command of Detroit's lineup, hurling seven scoreless innings to win his third straight start and remain undefeated this season. Wrapping up the second game of a day-night doubleheader, the Yankees put up six runs in the ninth inning to blow open an 8-0 victory.
A 34-minute turn at-bat in the ninth might have allowed New York to exhale at the end of a long day, but Hughes gave his club just as much confidence even before the carousel went into motion around the bases. The right-hander improved to 5-0 this season and now sports a sharp 1.38 ERA through six starts. Now, at 23 years and 322 days old, Hughes is the youngest Yankees pitcher to win his first five decisions of the season since 21-year-old Whitey Ford began the year 9-0 in 1950.
"I felt good coming into the year," Hughes said. "I knew if I could try to make the best pitches I could, then I could have some success. Obviously, with this lineup, we score runs, so it makes my job easier."
Hughes' victory came after the Yankees dropped the first game of the twin bill, 2-0, despite receiving seven innings of two-run ball from Javier Vazquez. New York could never get going against opposing pitcher Rick Porcello, who overshadowed Vazquez's strongest start of the year.
"I'm very pleased with the performances of our starters," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "When you get seven out of both of them, you don't overwork your bullpen. You get some guys some days off. It's really good. Our starters have been one of the big keys to our success, and they were very good again today."
You would not have bet on a lopsided score by watching the Tigers' Jeremy Bonderman, who limited the Yankees to two runs in seven innings, with Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira notching run-scoring hits.
In the first inning, Brett Gardner stroked a one-out single and recorded his 16th steal of the year before scoring on A-Rod's single to right field. In the third, Derek Jeter walked and stole second base before scoring on Teixeira's hit to right.
Hughes was even more dominant, striking out eight and scattering five hits and one walk over 101 pitches. He worked out of trouble by striking out the side after allowing a leadoff double in the second inning, and he also left the bases loaded in the fourth with a whiff and popup as the curve began coming into play.
Girardi said that Hughes had been able to expand the strike zone down with his curveball and up with his fastball, recovering from a pitch count that crept past 40 through two innings.
"Last year helped a lot with that, having that confidence out of the bullpen and being aggressive with it, not being afraid to miss over the plate," Hughes said. "I saw it a couple of times tonight. [There was] a 2-0 fastball to Johnny [Damon] where I tried to throw it down the middle and I broke his bat. Every time you do that, it helps."
"When he's on like that, it's tough," said the Tigers' Austin Jackson. "He pitched a really good game. He kept beating me with the fastball, and everybody else he kept off balance pretty good. But for the most part, he was on his game."
Hughes has worked at least seven innings in three consecutive starts and is unbeaten in 10 starts dating back to May 15, making the Yankees' decision to anoint him as their fifth starter coming out of Spring Training look more prudent by the day.
"I think we saw him grow up a lot last year, and it has carried over to this year," Girardi said. "None of our pitchers are going to be perfect, but this guy has made huge strides for us. We envisioned him being a very good starter coming out of Spring Training, and he's probably gone beyond that."
As the Yankees' Game 2 starter, Hughes might have been the best-rested person in the clubhouse. He was not required to be at Comerica Park until later in the afternoon and said he hadn't rolled over to look at a clock in his hotel room until 1:03 p.m. ET -- two minutes before the scheduled first pitch of Game 1.
By the time Hughes arrived in the visitors' clubhouse, wearing a black jacket and blue jeans, the Yankees had already completed nine innings and were settling in for the nightcap.
"Nice of you to show up," Joba Chamberlain said.
"Sometimes you get lucky," Hughes said later, with a shrug.
Hughes completed the seventh inning by inducing a double-play grounder and getting a popout around two hits, handing a two-run lead to the bullpen.
Chamberlain hurled a scoreless eighth inning, and with Mariano Rivera warming up to make his first appearance since April 30, the Yankees made him wait just a little bit longer.
Six runs later, New York had battered Phil Coke for four runs and tired out Alfredo Figaro. Francisco Cervelli and Gardner started the damage with RBI hits, and Teixeira blooped a two-run double in front of Jackson in center field.
A-Rod followed with an RBI double to left, and Teixeira charged home with New York's eighth and final run, as Figaro fired a wild pitch while facing Randy Winn for the second time in the inning.
The glacially paced top half of the inning did not change the Yankees' decision to get Rivera work, and he did not appear to have missed a beat, hurling a perfect ninth to snap New York's three-game losing streak.
It was good, he joked later, that he had remembered where the mound was.
"I got a little map," Rivera said. "I felt good. It's been a long time. That's OK, though. ... I've been there before, plus I threw bullpen [sessions] during that time. It was OK."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.