PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) - Phil Hughes isn't feeling any extra pressure because of Andy Pettitte's return to the New York Yankees.
Focusing on his changeup, Hughes allowed three hits in five innings Wednesday as the New York Yankees beat the Tampa Bay Rays 5-2.
With CC Sabathia and Hideki Kuroda assured rotation spots, Hughes began spring training competing with Ivan Nova, Michael Pineda and Freddy Garcia for the final three slots. Pettitte's decision to end his retirement after one year adds another arm to the mix.
``There's always a need for good pitching, and as long as I go out and pitch well and am one of those guys, there's going to be a spot,' Hughes said. ``I'm making strides every day. Up to this point, I'm happy where I'm at.'
He walked Carlos Pena leading off the second, and Matt Joyce connected on a first-pitch cutter for a two-run homer, his third home run of spring training.
``You could look over your shoulder every day in this business. That's the bottom line,' Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. ``You have to learn to look forward, and if you take care of your business and do what you're supposed to do, chances are you don't have to worry about looking over your shoulder.'
Pettitte, a 39-year-old left-hander, is a five-time World Series champion. He is not expected to be ready for the start of the season.
Hughes, coming off an injury filled season and a 5-5 record, struck out three and walked one in his fourth outing and threw 50 of 73 pitches for strikes. Hughes said he threw about 15 changeups and got a few of his strikeouts with the pitch, which he said he didn't have a great feel for in the past.
``It was very good,' Yankees catcher Russell Martin said. ``He wasn't as consistent early on with it, but as the game went along he kept getting better and better I think he's gaining confidence the more he throws it.'
Joyce's home run was all the offense Tampa Bay could muster.
``That was properly struck,' Rays manager Joe Maddon said. ``I thought it was pin-high when it landed. It was definitely putting from there. It left the bat very hot and it was gone.'
With Jeff Niemann pitching five innings in a minor league game on the backfields of Charlotte Sports Park, Kyle Farnsworth, J.P Howell and Burke Badenhop combined for scoreless ball over the first five innings. Howell said he had probably his best outing.
``My fastball was moving a lot,' he said. ``That old saying, your fastball is your most important pitch, it is. It opens up everything you have. If you can throw one in, throw one away, you're putting the hitter in a bad situation to make a decision on what he wants to choose.'
Rays catcher Jose Molina caught all nine innings. The 36-year-old went 1 for 4 .
``He really wanted to go nine today and he did a great job with it,' Maddon said. ``We had a very hot day, a lot of pitches thrown, so it was a great way to get in shape.'
NOTES: Rays CF B.J. Upton (back) was a late scratch, a week after colliding with LF Desmond Jennings.
The Associated Press News Service
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