Will Phil Hughes Stay With Yankees?

Could righty move to the bullpen?

There were two things that stood out above all else in Wednesday's 11-4 Yankee win. Well, three things if you want to count how effortlessly the lineup is approaching their at-bats, but let's focus on the pitching.

The first thing was that Phil Hughes got eight Orioles to swing and miss at strike three. It was impressive to see that kind of finishing power from Hughes, something that wasn't particularly in evidence in his previous four starts. Hughes seemed content to rely on his fastball, with only the occasional curveball mixed in for good measure, and keeping things simple seemed to agree with him. 

The other thing that jumped out was that Mariano Rivera came into the game with two outs in the eighth inning. It's the latest sign that the Yankee bullpen holds more questions than answers, especially with Brian Bruney's return from injury making Joe Girardi skittish about using him on consecutive days. It wasn't hard to draw a line from one observation to another when you realize Chien-Ming Wang isn't far away from a return. 

Why not try Hughes in a bullpen role? Everyone has focused on Joba Chamberlain, because of his 2007 exploits but, right now, Hughes makes more sense as a reliever than Chamberlain. Where Joba has three or four capable pitches at his disposal, Hughes only has two and they are two that could make him quite effective in the seventh and eighth inning of close games. With the number of reliable bullpen arms down to two, at best, it's an idea worth considering.

It doesn't mean Hughes will never be a starter, just that it may be time to try a different way of skinning the cat. Plenty of pitchers, most notably Johan Santana, have broken into the majors via the bullpen before becoming effective starting pitchers. It may be to Hughes' benefit to face more major league hitters at this point in his career, and the Yankees would clearly benefit from having a reliever who could pump fastballs past the opposition.

With just 14 AAA starts under his belt it seems more likely that he'll head back to Scranton, but continuing Hughes' exposure to the big leagues through the bullpen isn't an idea worth discarding wholesale.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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