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04/03/08 2:17 AM ET

Hughes to put lessons to the test

Toronto (1-1) at New York (1-1), Thursday, 7:05 p.m. ET

On the evening that Phil Hughes really introduced himself to New York, spinning a no-hitter deep into the late innings before leaving with an unfortunate hamstring injury, Joe Girardi was among those watching through the warm Texas air.

Little could Girardi, then commentating for the YES Network, have known on May 1 of last season that he would call Hughes a member of his starting stable less than a year later. But now that Hughes has returned from the setbacks to resume his promising career, Girardi has been pleased by the 21-year-old right-hander's progress thus far.

"He has three or four weapons that he can go to," Girardi said. "His slider and changeup have improved, and his location has improved. I think physically he has improved as well. I saw him come into Spring Training, and he looked like he was on a mission -- a mission to be here the whole year and to be healthy. I expect good things."

After spending extra time in Tampa, Fla., as one of the Yankees' earliest arrivals, Hughes, the youngest member of New York's pitching staff, will make his 2008 debut on Thursday against the Blue Jays as the Bombers complete their first series of the season.

The spring was a learning experience for Hughes, who attended big league camp for the third consecutive year but the first in which he was assured of a spot in the starting rotation, barring injury. Yet he hasn't even gone through the trouble of apartment-hunting in the New York area. With the Yankees on the road for much of April, he and rotation-mate Ian Kennedy have decided to delay their search and live out of hotels until the schedule grows more accommodating.

Hughes was hyped as the Yankees' top pitching prospect upon his arrival last April and, though he shared the spotlight somewhat when Joba Chamberlain became a folk hero in the second half, he didn't let the exposure go to his head.

"I tried to approach it the same way as previous years where I was earning a spot," Hughes said. "In that sense I didn't really change my mentality. There's always pressure, whether you pitch in a big market like New York or a smaller market.

"There's always pressure to perform, and I don't think it's ever going to change, really. It's just something you've got to learn to deal with and embrace."

Permitted to focus more on improving his secondary pitches, a slider and changeup that complement his fastball and curve, Hughes didn't have the smoothest of Grapefruit League showings, going 3-0 but posting a 5.82 ERA.

"I think everyone's going to have a couple of those during the spring," he said. "It's good to get them out of the way then, when you don't even feel like you can throw a fastball for a strike. Obviously, if you can't do that, there's going to be some rough outings.

"All around, I felt good about pretty much everything. My mechanics were solid all spring, and I got to throw my changeup and slider more than I had. I wanted to incorporate everything, and I got a good feel for it coming into the season. At least I know that those pitches are where I want them."

Pitching matchup
TOR: RHP Dustin McGowan (0-0, -.-- ERA)
McGowan began last season with Triple-A Syracuse but quickly established himself after joining the big league rotation in May. He returns as Toronto's No. 3 starter and has the potential to become a dominating option. The Blue Jays sent him home before Wednesday's game with flu-like symptoms. In the event he is not able to start, Shaun Marcum would get the call.

NYY: RHP Phil Hughes (0-0, -.-- ERA)
Hughes limited opponents to three earned runs or fewer in eight of his 13 starts last year and held batters to a .194 mark the first time through the order. He also recorded New York's only victory in the American League Division Series, relieving Roger Clemens in Game 3 at New York.

The Yankees have won 11 of the last 17 games between New York and Toronto and 24 of the last 39 against the Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium since the start of the 2004 season. ... Catcher Jorge Posada was a pregame scratch on Wednesday with right shoulder stiffness and is day-to-day. ... Alex Rodriguez has 519 career homers, leaving him two away from tying Ted Williams and Willie McCovey (521) for 15th place on baseball's all-time home run list.

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Up next
Friday: Yankees (Ian Kennedy, 0-0, -.--) vs. Rays (Edwin Jackson, 0-0, -.--), 7:05 p.m. ET
Saturday: Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 0-0, -.--) vs. Rays (Jason Hammel, 0-0, -.--), 1:05 p.m. ET
Sunday: Yankees (Chien-Ming Wang, 1-0, 2.57) vs. Rays (James Shields, 1-0, 2.57), 1:05 p.m. ET

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.