Phil Hughes pain free after bullpen session

03/11/2013 10:44 AM ET
By Jon Lane

Phil Hughes hurt his back during February fielding drills.(AP)
Three weeks after being diagnosed with a bulging disk in his upper back, New York Yankees starter Phil Hughes threw 26 pitches off a bullpen mound on Monday morning. He emerged from the session pain free, will face hitters on Thursday and then pitch in a simulated game.

Hughes told reporters that pitching coach Larry Rothschild has a set of targets the right-hander must reach on schedule, so he can break camp with the team and be ready to pitch during the opening week of the regular season.

"He told me the other day that he's got some dates in mind that I have to either be in a game or something like that," Hughes said. "He would know better than I would, but I don't think it's out of the question."

Hughes went 16-13 with a 4.19 ERA in 32 starts last season. He is locked in as the Yankees' fourth starter, but if he were to start the season on the disabled list, Ivan Nova and David Phelps, competing for the fifth spot, would both begin the year in the rotation. Hughes, though, called his bullpen session "a big step" and is looking forward to what comes next.

"Today I felt like I was throwing a normal bullpen," Hughes said. "I wasn't thinking about my back. I was letting it go and got through that without any issues. For me, it's a big positive. I just need to make sure I don't have any setbacks going forward."

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