PORT CHARLOTTE — Manager Joe Girardi said early in the spring that he wouldn't start evaluating his rotation contenders until their third or fourth starts. But Phil Hughes looked at every time he took the mound as an opportunity to make an impression.
It has been a good one.
Hughes' standout spring continued Wednesday when he allowed two runs, three hits and a walk in five innings of the Yankees' 5-2 victory over the Rays.
The slimmed-down Hughes struck out three and saw his ERA drop to 2.03 in four spring outings.
Girardi called the difference from last spring "night and day," and barring injury the manager knows the decision on the rotation won't be easy. With CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda the only pitchers guaranteed spots, Freddy Garcia, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova and Hughes all have performed reasonably well. And Andy Pettitte will soon be added to the mix.
Hughes' fastball peaked at 93 mph Wednesday and sat at 92, but what stood out were his curveball and changeup, which was the best it has been this spring.
"I really hadn't gotten a chance to throw as many changeups as I want," said Hughes, who threw 70 pitches (50 strikes). "Seems like a lot of quick swings this spring and I didn't necessarily have those drawn-out counts. I seemed to have a lot of those (Wednesday) where I could really incorporate my changeup. If I really think about the one thing I took a step forward with, it would be the changeup."
Jays: The right path
SARASOTA — Kyle Drabek faces long odds of making the Blue Jays' opening day roster. He's hoping to at least make it a difficult decision.
In his second start of the spring, the second-year right-hander allowed two runs and three hits in 31/3 innings of a 6-3 loss to the Orioles, walking two and striking out three.
"I might have been wild a few times. Just rushing a little bit, but I got the groundballs that I wanted," Drabek said.
"I feel like he's definitely on the right path," Toronto manager John Farrell said. "He threw a number of curveballs for strikes (Wednesday). He kept himself under control in the first inning that could have been a little shaky for him. It's another step in the right direction for him today."
In 2011, Drabek made the Blue Jays and stayed with them until mid June. He was demoted after posting a 6.06 ERA in 782/3 innings and continued to struggle at Triple-A Las Vegas.
FOREVER YOUNG: Blue Jays INF Omar Vizquel, trying to make the team as a reserve at age 44, went 2-for-3 and is batting .435 this spring.
Phils: Lefty Kiker let go
CLEARWATER — The Phillies' search for a left-handed complement to RH reliever Antonio Bastardo will continue.
A week after releasing Dontrelle Willis, Philadelphia released Kasey Kiker from its minor-league camp. The former first-round pick was claimed by the Phillies after the Rangers released him in December.
Kiker, 24, didn't advance past Double A in six years in Texas' system. He had a 7.05 ERA in 442/3 innings at Class A Myrtle Beach last season.