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02/26/09 6:10 PM EST

Waiting for a call, Hughes prepares

Unlike last season, righty forced to earn spot in Yankees' rotation

TAMPA, Fla. -- The fanfare has died down from last spring, when the Yankees were banking that Phil Hughes would step up as the youngest pitcher in the Majors and handle the American League with aplomb.

It didn't work out as expected, and by adding CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett over the offseason, the Yankees have effectively pushed Hughes' timetable back. All Hughes can do now is prepare for another chance.

"I feel like if I can stay healthy and pitch well wherever I'm at, I'll do pretty well," Hughes said. "I'm just trying to get ready, and if I do go to Triple-A, I'll just be working there to get back up."

The right-hander started his course on Thursday, pitching two innings of scoreless, hitless ball in the Yankees' 5-1 victory over the Rays at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Working on pitching inside, Hughes hit two of the first three batters he faced and walked another, but he also struck out two and left manager Joe Girardi with a positive impression.

"He was pretty good for the first time out," Girardi said. "I knew he nipped a couple of guys, but he threw strikes and threw his curveball for some strikes. He mixed in his changeup, and I thought he had good downhill plane on his fastball. I think all of our guys did pretty well for the first time out."

By spending a combined $243.5 million to woo Sabathia and Burnett, the Yankees are hoping to avoid the gamble they took last spring, when Hughes and 23-year-old righty Ian Kennedy were slotted in from the early days of camp.

Because of injuries and ineffectiveness, both prospects finished the year winless, leaving the Yankees to search for patchwork additions to the rotation and wonder if they had rushed Hughes and Kennedy.

Opening last season at the age of 21, Hughes completed the year 0-4 with a 6.62 ERA in eight starts, spending three months on the sidelines with a fractured right rib.

"I was given a great opportunity, and I didn't come through," Hughes said. "That's the bottom line. I didn't feel like I was ill-prepared. I struggled out of the gate and got hurt. If I could go back, I would, but I'd go about things the same way."

This year, Hughes and Kennedy will vie to be the players next in line should anything happen to the Yankees' rotation. Girardi said that fighting for a callup may turn out to be a better situation for them.

"Unfortunately, it didn't work out the way we wanted, the way they wanted it," Girardi said. "They went through some growing pains, and they probably learned a lot.

"They're going to have to continue to improve. It's not easy to be a young player and to have a lot of expectations on you, especially in New York."

Hughes said that despite the fact that the Yankees' rotation is full on paper, nothing has changed in his approach toward camp. He plans to spend the next few weeks working to refine his fastball and changeup.

"I'm going about it the same way I always have," Hughes said. "It doesn't feel too different."

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