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The pressure mounts for Phil Hughes

Right-hander set for biggest start of young career against Baltimore
09/12/2013 12:57 PM ET
By Doug Williams

The Yankees need a big effort from Phil Hughes Thursday night in the finale against the Orioles.(AP)
For days now, the Yankees' plan was to start long-time journeyman David Huff on Thursday night against the Orioles. Well, that plan changed Wednesday when Joe Girardi announced that Phil Hughes would get the nod instead.

Hughes was demoted to the bullpen for one start last Saturday, in which David Huff was crushed for nine runs against the Red Sox. And while Hughes didn't exactly dazzle in the bullpen during his short time there, Girardi cited his experience as the reason for the late change.

Hughes (4-13, 5.11 ERA this season) has gone six innings and given up two runs in his last two starts at Camden Yards, including one this season. The Yankees are hoping he can limit the damage, pitch deep into the game and let the Yankees' bats do the rest.

Hughes has more pressure on him tonight than any start in his career for a few reasons.

1. He needs to save the bullpen. Shawn Kelley, who is coming off a minor injury, has thrown the past two nights. David Robertson, also coming off an injury, threw last night. And Mariano Rivera has thrown in three of the last four games.

2. This game is very close to a must win. The Yankees, while only one game out of the Wild Card, head to Boston after tonight's game. Winning tonight could not only potentially tie them for the Wild Card lead but also take pressure off of a tough series at Fenway. On a side not, the Red Sox have a favorable matchup at the Trop tonight, as they have Peavy going against a struggling Jeremy Hellickson.

3. It's September 12th and time is running out. Every game matters -- and despite Hughes' struggles this season -- I'm willing to bet that he knows that.

4. If somehow Hughes can pitch great tonight and get hot, he could totally erase his tough season thus far and change his future dramatically. In his free-agent season, a good September and October could not only increase his value but also increase the chance that he's back in the Bronx next season.

With the injury bug that they've suffered from, the fact that the Yankees are even in this exciting race is miraculous and is a testament to the terrific managing of Joe Girardi. But making the playoffs is one thing, and winning in them is another. Girardi would be the first to say that a confident and consistent Phil Hughes could only help them going into October.

Maybe we'll see that guy tonight.

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