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Seeking trip to ALCS, Yanks hand ball to Hughes

NEW View Full Game Coverage YORK -- Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes will have a shot at redemption when he takes the mound with the goal of eliminating the Orioles from the postseason in Game 4 of the American League Division Series on Thursday night.

Hughes will be making his first playoff start since 2010, when he couldn't keep the Yankees alive in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series against the Rangers.

Now, Hughes will have an opportunity to make the Orioles feel the same way he did almost two years ago. But a lot of time has passed since then, and he's done his best to put the pair of rough outings in that ALCS in his rearview mirror.

"I try to forget about them," Hughes said before New York's 3-2, 12-inning victory in Game 3 on Wednesday night. "You don't really want to linger on the negative, but every postseason start and things like that is an experience and something I can learn from.

"But it's a different team, different lineup, and I think I kind of know what to expect going into this, and that's something I can certainly learn from. But every start, every team, kind of provides their own difficulties, their own challenges."

Hughes is coming off somewhat of an inconsistent season. He managed to go 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA, but surrendered at least four runs in four of his final six starts.

Overall, it was a noticeable improvement over his 2011 campaign, which saw him post an ERA of just under six in 17 games. There are plenty of positives to draw upon and his success against the Orioles could prove crucial in a possible elimination game.

Hughes has more wins (six) versus Baltimore than he does against any other team. He also has lost just twice in his past 10 starts versus the Orioles and surrendered three runs or less in seven of those outings.

Tale of the Tape: Game 4
Joe Saunders
Phil Hughes
2012 regular season
Overall: 28 GS, 9-13, 4.07 ERA, 39 BB, 112 K Overall: 32 GS, 16-13, 4.23 ERA, 46 BB, 165 K
Key stat: Held lefties to a .199 average and .451 OPS in the regular season without allowing a home run. Key stat: Tied for team lead in wins with 16.
At Yankee Stadium
2012: N/A
Career: 1 GS, 1-0, 3.00 ERA (old Yankee Stadium)
2012: 16 GS, 11-4, 3.74 ERA
Career: 68 G, 44 GS, 27-11, 4.40 ERA (new Yankee Stadium only)
Against this opponent
2012: 1 GS, 1-0, 3.38 ERA
Career: 6 GS, 3-1, 5.82 ERA
2012: 4 GS, 2-2, 4.76 ERA
Career: 17 G, 14 GS, 6-4, 5.10 ERA
Loves to face: Mark Teixeira, 3-for-18 (.167), 0 RBIs
Hates to face: Alex Rodriguez, 6-for-17 (.353), 2 HRs, 5 RBIs, 4 XBHs, 1.382 OPS
Loves to face: Chris Davis, 3-for-16 (.188), 1 HR, 6 Ks
Hates to face: Mark Reynolds, 3-for-12, 2 HRs, 1 DBs, 5 RBIs
Game breakdown
Why he'll win: Has been sharp, winning his last two starts, including Wild Card game against Texas. Why he'll win: Has pitched better at home this season; beat Orioles last time he faced them in September.
Pitcher beware: New York's 272 runs scored and 72 homers against lefties in the regular season were tops in the Majors. Pitcher beware: Surrendered 35 home runs this season, tied for the second most in the Majors. Only the Yankees hit more homers than Baltimore's 214.
Bottom line: O's need Saunders to come up big again to keep season alive. Bottom line: Must keep the ball in the park.

Even more impressive was a start on Sept. 7 at Camden Yards when Hughes surrendered two earned runs over six frames to record his 14th victory.

Those numbers will be thrown out the window when he takes the mound for Game 4, but it's still something he can draw upon. Especially since it marked a change in strategy which saw him rely on a secondary pitch more than he had in the past.

"I remember it was probably the first or second game that I really used my slider quite a bit," Hughes said. "I think that could be a big pitch against this team that really likes to hit the fastball. I mean, it's a tough lineup. Obviously [Thursday] is going to be a big game.

"I remember it was a good atmosphere over there [at Camden Yards], and it's going to be the same here."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi officially named Hughes the starter for Game 4 on Wednesday afternoon. There had been some consideration to give the outing to ace CC Sabathia on short rest, but that also would have required giving the ball to veteran left-hander Andy Pettitte if the series was extended to Game 5.

Girardi would have been fine with using Sabathia on three days' rest, but was less keen to take a similar approach with Pettitte in a worst-case scenario. The 40-year-old Pettitte has made just four appearances since returning from a fractured left ankle and his overall health and lack of recent work is somewhat of a concern.

That's why New York would prefer to keep Pettitte on a regular schedule rather than bringing him back on short rest. Even though the Yankees are up 2-1 in the series, Girardi has to plan ahead for all scenarios.

"I have my concerns about it," Girardi said during a news conference on Wednesday when asked if he considered Pettitte for Game 5. "You know, he talked about what his schedule was today, and I told him what our plans were. This is a guy that's coming off an injury, didn't have a ton of starts, threw as many pitches the other day as he's thrown in a while. He's 40 years old. So I do have some concerns about that."

Pettitte's prolonged absence from the rotation ultimately led to a second chance for Hughes in the postseason. Even though Hughes is still just 25, his overall experience in the playoffs is that of a veteran pitcher.

Hughes will be making his 17th appearance -- fourth start -- in the playoffs. In four postseasons, he is 2-3 with a 5.40 ERA (30 innings/18 earned runs), but the majority of that work has come in relief.

"It's a great opportunity," said Hughes, who last pitched on Sept. 30 against the Blue Jays. "Last year was a disappointing season, and the year before that, pitching a good game against Minnesota and not then pitching at all against Texas. I've been looking forward to this, and it's going to be exciting. It's going to be a good atmosphere here and something I really look forward to."

New York Yankees, Phil Hughes