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Hughes seeks turnaround in new relief role

NEW YORK -- Phil Hughes knows every player goes through ups and downs throughout the season. This year, though, the Yankees right-hander said it seems like it has been mostly downs.

The biggest blow to his season came on Tuesday, when manager Joe Girardi made the decision to demote Hughes to the bullpen and insert David Huff into the starting rotation.

Hughes said he wasn't blindsided by the news, but said he was "disappointed and surprised." He also said he expects the demotion to last longer than one start.

"It's disappointing, there's always kind of the emotion going into it, but at this point, we're in the middle of a playoff race here and that was the decision they wanted to make," Hughes said. "Huff's been throwing the ball extremely well and I haven't all year, so I see why they made the decision."

Hughes has lost a team-high 13 starts this season, winning just four games and compiling a 4.86 ERA over 26 starts. His struggles have magnified of late, as the right-hander has lost 11 of his last 13 decisions and posted a 6.12 ERA since the start of August.

"I've tried a lot of different things. It's just been one of those years," Hughes said. "I've tried adding different pitches and this and that and the other and at a certain point, it's 'Where do you go from here?' It's been frustrating, but I still feel like I have some time in the bullpen to turn myself around and get myself back on track."

Girardi said before Monday's game that he hadn't considered replacing Hughes in the rotation because the two top options -- David Phelps and Michael Pineda -- are both hurt. But Huff has allowed just one run over 15 innings since being called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Aug. 15 and had worked as a starter during his time with the Indians and RailRiders, giving Girardi another option.

Hughes has experience as a reliever, too. He thrived out of the bullpen during the Yankees' World Series run in 2009, going 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA over 51 1/3 innings. In his career as a reliever, Hughes has a 1.44 ERA and averages 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings, compared to 4.72 and 7.3 as a starter, respectively.

The right-hander attributed the difference in success between roles to being able to "let it go" as a reliever and not have to worry about pitching deep into games.

"When you know you're just down there for an inning or two, everyone's stuff kind of bumps up a little bit," Hughes said. "You see it time and time again from anybody who used to be a starter and goes into the bullpen. It gives you a little bit of extra juice."

Hughes said he didn't know yet what his role would be in the bullpen, and Girardi said he would look at the situation on a daily basis before deciding how to deploy the right-hander. The Yankees already have proven options in Shawn Kelley, Boone Logan and Preston Claiborne before David Robertson and Mariano Rivera come in in the eighth and ninth innings, and Hughes said he didn't see himself "in that mix."

"Before, we worked him in kind of slowly," Girardi said. "But I've seen him do it before, so he should have confidence that he can do it. We'll just see."

Hughes is a free agent after this season, but he said he hasn't thought at all about how this will affect how -- or where -- he pitches next year.

"I don't really think about that," Hughes said. "I'm just kind of more worried about the day to day and doing whatever I can to help this team. Hopefully, it's a good September we have and we have some more baseball after that.

Josh Vitale is an associate reporter for
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