Yankees Clubhouse Notebook: 'The fight is still there'

09/25/2013 5:17 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

It has been mostly a season to forget for Yankees starter Phil Hughes.(AP)
It's a dire day for the New York Yankees, as even if they defeat the Rays tonight, they could still go to sleep officially eliminated from the playoff race.

Last night's loss, combined with Cleveland's walk-off win, put the Yankees five out in the Wild Card chase with five games left to play - basically meaning that they need to win out, have Cleveland and/or Tampa Bay lose out, and also get some help in terms of Kansas City and Texas faltering, too.

"It's definitely hard, because you work for a long time to put yourself in a good spot to get into the playoffs; right now, we need a ton of help and we need to win every game, and that's the hard part because that's what you go through," manager Joe Girardi said after Tuesday's loss. "It's not a good feeling at all."

On Wednesday, he reiterated that once again.

"We still have a shot but it's really remote, obviously," Girardi said, "but as I talked about yesterday, it's difficult because you work so long to have an opportunity to make the playoffs, and we hurt our chances. But, we still go about things the same way."

And so, with the season hanging in the balance, the Yankees turn to the much-maligned Phil Hughes, who will slot into tonight's start in place of CC Sabathia looking to not only salvage his season, but his team's, too.

Hughes has had a dismal season, going 4-13 with a 5.07 ERA in 28 starts and one relief appearance, and with free agency looming, this could be his final appearance in pinstripes.

"This year has been a struggle for him, and if you're going to pick a year to struggle, this isn't it," Girardi said, "and from that standpoint, I feel bad for him, because I know how he loves it here and wants to be successful for this franchise."

The skipper was unsure, however, if that pending free agency had anything to do with what Hughes has done this year.

"I don't know. Sometimes people think it's the arbitration year, sometimes it's the walk year…I don't know," Girardi said. "I understand why the questions are asked, but sometimes things don't necessarily have an answer. You'd think coming off last year, he'd just jump right back in and have some success, but for whatever reason, he didn't."

If this is Hughes' swan song, the skipper said he will reflect back on Hughes' career in New York as an important one.

"He's had some good times and some rough times; he's a guy that had a couple big years as a starter and a big year out of the bullpen," Girardi said. "He was a big part of our success in 2009 with what he did in that bullpen, and he had some big years for us."

In the lineup behind Hughes tonight, Eduardo Nunez will take a turn as the leadoff hitter with Ichiro sitting against the lefty.

"He's swung the bat as well as anyone has for us in September, and we're facing a tough left-hander who has been tough on our guys," Girardi said. "Nuney has had a little success off (David Price), so I decided to put him in there. … I'm going to continue to play him, because he's been playing well."

Travis Hafner is also back, having been reinstated from the 60-day disabled list, and while he won't start, Girardi said he wouldn't hesitate to use Pronk as a pinch-hitter; however, he also talked about continuing to use Nunez at third base and having "no change in plans" for recent full-time DH Alex Rodriguez, so it appears that may be Hafner's only role in this final week.

"I don't necessarily plan on changing anything yet," he said.

So far, the Yankees are 8-2 in games after they were shutout this season and have averaged 4.7 runs per game in those contests, so we'll leave it to the skipper to punctuate that stat.

"We're facing a tough guy today and we have to find a way to scratch some runs across. We weren't able to do it yesterday when we had some opportunities, we weren't able to do it Sunday when we had some opportunities, but we have to find a way," he said.

And we'll give the last word to Curtis Granderson, who said that despite the circumstances, everyone does indeed believe in the Yogi Berra epithet that "it ain't over 'til it's over."

"It's the end of September and we're still alive for the postseason, so we need to push forward and hopefully advance our season to October. Obviously our backs are against the wall, but the fight is still there."

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