Hughes prepares for first major league start

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NEW YORK (AP)—Phil Hughes has dreamed about making his first major league start for some time now. When he finally learned the date, he started dreaming about which pitches he would throw to certain Toronto Blue Jays.

So when the 20-year-old right-hander takes the mound on Thursday night at Yankee Stadium, the string of events that led to his big league debut will be far from his mind.

“The circumstances of which I was called on really doesn’t make a difference,” Hughes said Wednesday. “I came here with a job to do and that’s really the only way I look at it.”

The Yankees wanted to go slowly with their prized prospect, but a rash of injuries to their starting pitchers and an 8-11 start changed their plans.

So they’ve done everything they can to make things easier on Hughes, who is slated to become the youngest pitcher to make his big league debut with the Yankees since 18-year-old Jose Rijo on April 5, 1984. They optioned Colter Bean to Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre on Wednesday so Hughes could have a day to get used to his surroundings.

When Wednesday night’s game against the Blue Jays was rained out, they pushed Andy Pettitte back to Friday night’s series opener against Boston and kept Hughes as their Thursday starter. The Yankees are last in the AL East and have lost five straight.

“I don’t know how he’s going to handle it,” catcher Jorge Posada said. “We all hope he is going to handle it well. He’s very smart. He understands what’s going on. The last two spring trainings he carried himself real well so we’re looking forward to it.”

Hughes, taken in the first round of the 2004 amateur draft, is 2-1 with a 3.94 ERA in three starts this season at Scranton, and he pitched six shutout innings last Wednesday at Syracuse, allowing two hits, striking out 10 and walking none.

He had a 7.71 ERA in three games in three spring training games with the Yankees this year.

“I feel like I’ve really come a long way in just a few starts,” Hughes said, “especially that last start that I had went real well.”

That last start was against Syracuse, Toronto’s Triple-A team. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said they’ll learn what they can from the Chiefs but they expect Hughes to pitch well.

“He’s thought very highly of,” Gibbons said. “Arguably, they say the best pitcher in the minor leagues. So we know he’ll be bringing it pretty good.”

Gibbons decided to push A.J. Burnett back a day, and Josh Towers will throw Friday night in the opener of a four-game series against the Texas Rangers.

Gibbons was able to find one nice aspect about Wednesday night’s rainout.

“Nobody got hurt today,” he said. “That’s a good thing.”

Toronto placed catcher Gregg Zaun on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday and called up Sal Fasano from Syracuse. Zaun broke his right thumb when a foul ball went off his hand in the first inning of Tuesday night’s game against Boston.

Zaun will have surgery Thursday and is expected to be out six to eight weeks for the Blue Jays, who have seven players on the disabled list.

The Yankees have their own disabled list to monitor, making the length of Hughes’ stay unclear. Manager Joe Torre said injured right-hander Mike Mussina will make a rehab start somewhere Friday and could be back with the team next week. Carl Pavano threw on flat ground Wednesday and is feeling better as he works his way back from a forearm injury.

“I certainly think it’s worthwhile taking care of this guy even if you overdo it,” Torre said of Hughes. “But here’s an opportunity we certainly didn’t envision for him this early but I can’t say that he’s not going to be ready for it.”


Yankees SS Derek Jeter (bruised left thigh) was in the starting lineup for Wednesday night’s game before it was rained out, a day after he was hit on the leg by a pitch from Tampa Bay’s Scott Kazmir. … Kei Igawa or Jeff Karstens are to pitch Saturday and Chien-Ming Wang on Sunday. Boston’s scheduled starters are Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Julian Tavarez.

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