Athletics-Yankees Preview

A rough outing against the Oakland Athletics last month made it

seem like Phil Hughes’ days in the New York Yankees’ starting

rotation might be numbered.

With four strong showings under his belt since, he doesn’t

appear to be going anywhere.

Hughes looks to win his fourth straight start and help the

Yankees, who hope to have Alex Rodriguez back, avoid being swept by

the A’s for the first time in five years Thursday in the Bronx.

With Freddy Garcia (finger) expected to be activated from the

disabled list to start for New York (77-50) on Saturday, manager

Joe Girardi will likely be deciding soon which starter will move

into a relief role.

Last month, Hughes (4-4, 5.75 ERA) was one of the top candidates

for the demotion – especially after his outing against the A’s on

July 22. The right-hander yielded season highs of seven runs, nine

hits and four walks in 4 1-3 innings of New York’s 17-7 victory,

with Cliff Pennington going 2 for 2 with a walk and a two-run homer

against him.

Hughes has rebounded nicely from that dud, going 3-1 with a 1.75

ERA in four starts since.

“He’s pitched really well and it seems like he’s getting

stronger,” Girardi said after Hughes gave up a run and two hits in

a season-high 7 2-3 innings in Friday’s 8-1 win over Minnesota.

Although he said he’s not worrying about it, Hughes seems to be

getting closer to nailing down a spot in the postseason rotation,

which is fairly unsettled behind staff ace CC Sabathia.

“It’s not even my focus, playoffs or the next rotation around or

who is going to be the guy left out,” said Hughes, who has a 1.37

ERA in winning his three starts this month. “I’m happy with the way

the last few starts have gone and that’s really all I think

about.”

Hughes can’t be too pleased with the way things have been going

for his team.

After winning eight of 11, the Yankees have dropped the first

two in their series with Oakland, falling one game behind AL

East-leading Boston. New York, which had lost only two of its

previous 20 series overall, had won 10 straight series over the A’s

since June 29-July 1, 2007.

Oakland hasn’t swept the Yankees since June 9-11, 2006.

“We win the first two, got to try to get greedy,” A’s interim

manager Bob Melvin said.

Rodriguez has missed the first two games of the series because

of a sprained left thumb, but is hopeful about playing in the

finale.

The A’s (59-70) beat the Yankees 6-4 on Wednesday behind Coco

Crisp’s three-run, 10th-inning homer – his second of the game.

Crisp, who had his first multihomer game since June 18, 2007,

finished with four hits and five RBIs.

New York’s Nick Swisher also homered twice, continuing his tear

against the A’s. Swisher, who homered in Tuesday’s 6-5 loss, is

batting .357 with six home runs and 14 RBIs in eight games in the

season series.

He went 1 for 2 with a walk and a solo shot against scheduled

starter Rich Harden (4-2, 3.91) on July 23, but Harden allowed just

two runs and five hits with six strikeouts in 5 1-3 innings of a

4-3 victory.

In Friday’s 2-0 win over Toronto, Harden gave up two hits while

matching a career high with 11 strikeouts in seven innings. It was

his first 10-strikeout game since Sept. 5, 2009.

“That was close to how I felt back then,” the right-hander said.

“I hope to continue to build on that.”

Harden has been throwing the ball well in seven starts since the

All-Star break, going 3-1 with a 3.43 ERA and a major

league-leading 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings.