Already with plenty of issues at the back end of the bullpen, the New York Yankees are hardly free of question marks in their struggling starting rotation.
They're hoping Phil Hughes is no longer one of those.
After allowing a barrage of homers to the Toronto Blue Jays in the series opener, the visiting Yankees hope to bounce back with a third straight impressive start from Hughes on Thursday night to wrap up this two-game set.
Closer Mariano Rivera is gone for the season and fill-in David Robertson will miss at least the next two weeks with a left oblique strain, but the Yankees (20-17) haven't had many leads to hand over to their bullpen lately.
Tuesday marked the fourth straight game New York failed to get a quality start, as Hiroki Kuroda served up three of Toronto's four homers and seven runs over five innings in an 8-1 loss. Kuroda's ugly outing raised the Yankees' rotation ERA to 5.11 - only Colorado, Boston, Kansas City and Minnesota have been worse.
New York's 13 quality starts are the majors' third fewest, but it's 12-1 when it's gotten one.
After going without a quality start in his first five outings, Hughes (3-4, 5.50 ERA) has delivered in his last two. He held Kansas City to three runs over 6 2-3 innings of a 10-4 victory May 6, then limited Seattle to a run and six hits over 7 2-3 in Saturday's 6-2 win.
"I don't think, really, there's been a turning point," Hughes told the Yankees' official website. "It's been a process overall to get myself right. Sometimes you can hang on to momentum and stuff like that when you're pitching well. It's hard to get any worse than the beginning of the year."
Hughes is 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA in four starts at Rogers Centre, but he has a 6.33 ERA in five outings against the Blue Jays (20-18) over the past two seasons.
The right-hander has surrendered seven homers over 27 innings in those contests, and the long ball has been a problem so far this season as well. Hughes has given up nine, giving him a major league-worst ratio of 2.25 homers allowed per nine innings.
Adam Lind is the only current Blue Jays hitter to have taken him deep, despite going is 4 for 22 (.182) with 10 strikeouts in their matchups. Jose Bautista, who homered Monday and is now batting .199, is 3 for 12 against Hughes.
The Yankees will get their first look at Drew Hutchison (2-1, 5.53), who is coming off the first quality start of his brief major league career. The Blue Jays right-hander walked four in six innings Saturday at Minnesota, but allowed only three hits and one run in a 2-1 victory.
"He bends, but he doesn't break,' Toronto manager John Farrell said. "Tonight, much like we've seen in a couple other outings, there's that one inning where he'll contribute to some trouble on the basepaths, some traffic. But he kept away from the big inning.'
While the Yankees haven't been getting good starts lately, their lineup hasn't been helping. New York has gone 3 for 33 (.091) with runners in scoring position while dropping three of four, and has allowed multiple runs before getting on the board in each of those games.
"We got in a hole and then it seemed like every hitter was trying to hit a three-run homer with nobody on,' catcher Russell Martin said Wednesday. "That's not how you win ballgames.'
Derek Jeter got his first night off of the season Wednesday, perhaps because he's had more than a few off nights against Toronto. He hit .154 in last season's series, including 4 for 42 (.095) against right-handers.
The Associated Press News Service
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