Through his first two starts, Phil Hughes has pitched two more innings than last year and his 9.00 ERA is better than the 16.50 of a year ago. He also has 11 strikeouts, 10 more than he had during that period a year ago.

As Hughes takes the mound for his third start, manager Joe Girardi sees some things that could be markedly improved. Among them are long counts and mistakes up in the zone.

In his season debut at Tampa Bay on April 8, Hughes threw 84 pitches to 21 hitters, which translates to four pitches per batter. Last Saturday against the Angels, he threw 99 pitches to 20 hitters, which translates to 4.9 per hitter.

“I think pitch count is one thing that stands out,” Hughes said.


“He’s gotten in some longer counts number one and hasn’t been able to put hitters away. And number two, he’s made some mistakes up,” Girardi said.

In Tampa Bay, 12 hitters saw four pitches or more. Two of those encounters led to runs.

The first was against Evan Longoria in the first inning. Hughes threw all fastballs and got ahead 0-2, but the fifth pitch was a double to left field, which led to Tampa’s first run.

The second was to Carlos Pena in the third and Hughes also got ahead 0-2 with his curveball and fastball. Pena worked the count full against the cutter, changeup and curveball and then hit a fastball over the right field wall for a solo home run.

That was not as much of a problem last Saturday against the Angels. Hughes was rocked for six runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings, but Anaheim’s hitters got to him early in the count.

Chris Iannetta hit a two-run home run on a first-pitch fastball, Albert Pujols hit a run-scoring double on an 0-2 fastball after getting two curveballs and Howie Kendrick launched a three-run home run on a 1-2 cutter.

“He’s gotten plenty of strikeouts up, but he’s also made some mistakes up [in the zone],” Girardi said. “There’s a fine line when you pitch up. If you don’t get it high enough, a lot of times it’s going to be hit hard. So when he chooses to go up in the zone for strikeouts, he’s got to make sure he gets it there.”

The good news is this does not appear to be a reflection of velocity.

Through two starts, according to Pitch F/X data, his four-seam fastball is averaging 91.9 miles per hour the 105 times it has been thrown. Last year, that pitch was thrown 49 times during his first two starts and averaged 89.4 mph.

“There’s no doubt in my fastball this year,” Hughes said. “If you are throwing 100, it doesn’t really matter. If you are not getting outs, something has to change. It definitely feels better knowing I can go out there and work with the stuff I know I have instead of trying to figure. I have to pitch well. That’s the bottom line.”

Gardner sits, hits the DL

looking for another highlight type catch from Brett Gardner were sorely
disappointed. Gardner was a late scratch with right elbow stiffness one night after he was holding his right wrist following his
inning-ending catch in the third.

After the game, Gardner was
placed on the 15-day disabled list with a bone bruise and right elbow

“I believe it was from the catch,” Girardi said.
“Sometimes with adrenaline you don’t feel everything that you’re going
to feel the next day.”

Since the Yankees have had just three
quality starts and started to tax their bullpen, right-hander Cody
Eppley will join the team from Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre. Eppley
was claimed off waivers from the Rangers at the end of spring

A-Rod is a spectator

Last year, Alex Rodriguez’s first game off was a two-game break on April 17 and 19. That was due to soreness in his left side.

This year, he is getting first game off due to the fact that he has played all but two innings of the Yankees’ first 11 games.

“Just trying to be proactive [and] not running him into the ground where we end up having to give him a couple of days off,” Girardi said. “[We’re] making sure that physically he looks fresh.”

Rodriguez is hitting .227, though Girardi seemed to believe it was more of a case of bad luck.

“I don’t see him chasing a lot of pitches,” Girardi said. “I see him being patient, trying to get his pitch. To me he’s done everything that it takes to be really successful except that he’s run into some bad luck.”

While that may be true, the type of balls in play might have an impact. Through 11 games, 52.8 percent of balls in play have been groundouts.

Of course 11 games is hardly a sample for reality. Before Wednesday night, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano had combined for four RBI without hitting a home run and Raul Ibanez was the team’s leading run producer.

Rodriguez’s night off ended when he batted for Russell Martin to lead off the ninth against Matt Capps and bounced out to third base.

Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter

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