Joe Girardi has been searching for some answers for his jumbled starting rotation for weeks, hoping someone would emerge to back CC Sabathia.
With a month and a half to go before the postseason, the old Phil Hughes is showing signs of coming back, just in time.
Hughes allowed just two hits in 7 2-3 innings and Russell Martin hit two home runs to lead the New York Yankees to an 8-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Friday night.
“He’s pitched really well and it seems like he’s getting stronger, too, as we go,” Girardi said. “He got off to a slow start, and then he got hurt, and he’s rebounded pretty since coming off the DL.”
Hughes (4-4) gave up one run, walked three and struck out two in his longest outing of the season. Martin hit a solo homer in the third and a two-run shot in the sixth, his fourth career multihomer game.
Mark Teixeira added two hits and three RBIs for the first-place Yankees.
Hughes is 3-1 with a 1.75 ERA in his last four starts, and the 25-year-old appears to be finding his stride after a tough start to the season. He missed much of the first three months with right shoulder inflammation that sapped his velocity.
The fastball has shown more zip, but it’s his confidence with his changeup and curveball that is making the difference now.
“I can’t look back at the beginning of the year,” said Hughes, who won 18 games last year. “That’s over and done with. I have to make the most of what I have left.”
Kevin Slowey (0-1) gave up six runs on nine hits with four strikeouts for the Twins.
Trevor Plouffe hit a solo homer in the first inning, but Hughes put the Twins on ice the rest of the way.
The right-hander retired 14 straight hitters at one point and continued to mix all of his pitches effectively, something Girardi has been imploring him to do of late.
“If you have weapons, to me there’s no reason to keep them in your back pocket,” Girardi said before the game. “The best thing is to go out and use them.”
Girardi has mixed and match a slew of veterans behind Sabathia to get the Yankees to this point, including Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova.
Slowly but surely, Hughes has been improving each time out and making a push for postseason consideration.
“It’s not even my focus, playoffs or the next rotation around or who is going to be the guy left out,” Hughes said. “I’m happy with the way the last few starts have gone and that’s really all I think about.”
Hughes built on his confidence against one of the weakest lineups in baseball. After giving up the homer to Plouffe in the first inning, he only allowed one runner past first base, when he walked two in the seventh.
Luke Hughes had the only other hit of the game for the Twins, a single in the eighth.
Phil Hughes got plenty of help from his offense, which took a few innings to get revved up before hammering Slowey.
Martin tied it up in the third and Robinson Cano followed with an RBI double in the fourth to give the Yankees the lead.
Curtis Granderson’s double hopped over the first base bag in the fifth to score another run and Derek Jeter’s pretty slide at home beat Joe Mauer’s tag to make it 4-1.
Martin’s no-doubter in the sixth chased Slowey, who made his first full start of the season.
“I really tried to simplify my approach,” said Martin, who struggled with a back injury earlier in the season. “See the ball. Hit the ball. That’s really all I’ve been doing.”
After going 13-6 in 2010, the right-hander lost a competition for the final spot in the rotation out of spring training and then chafed at being placed in the bullpen. After six appearances, he went on the disabled list on May 25 with an abdominal injury and took two months to work his way back.
Slowey started the game on Sunday in Cleveland, but it was rained out after two innings.
“Not a good baseball game,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Pretty much dominated by Hughes. Two hits up on the board pretty much tells you what we did due to his performance.”
NOTES: The Twins honored closer Joe Nathan before the game for becoming the franchise’s career saves leader in their last home game on Aug. 10. … The Twins announced that the game that was rained out on Sunday at Cleveland will be made up as a day-night doubleheader on Sept. 24. … Teixeira’s three RBIs gave him 1,000 for his career. … New York LHP Pedro Feliciano, on the disabled list because of a tear in his left shoulder, could pitch for the first time since spring training next week in a Gulf Coast League game. The reliever threw 26 pitches in batting practice Friday at the Yankees’ minor league complex in Tampa. … Yankees backup INF Ramiro Pena, who had an appendectomy on July 18, is fielding grounders and may start batting practice next week. … Francisco Liriano (8-9, 5.12) will take the mound for the Twins on Saturday against A.J. Burnett (9-9, 4.61). Burnett snapped a seven-start winless skid in his last outing against the Royals, going 5 2-3 innings and allowing three runs. It was his first victory since June 29. Liriano has pitched past the sixth inning just once in his last six starts, going 2-2 with a 6.12 ERA in that span. … The Yankees announced that RHP Ivan Nova will start the series finale on Sunday against Nick Blackburn.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.