Hughes shut down two weeks with bulging disk
Right-hander taking anti-inflammatory medication, starting to feel better
TAMPA, Fla. -- Phil Hughes will be in a "two-week timeout," as general manager Brian Cashman put it, after a doctor discovered a bulging disk in the right-hander's upper back.
Hughes said he initially felt some soreness on the upper-right side of his back while covering first base in a defensive drill -- "nothing I haven't done a thousand times before" -- then underwent an MRI and saw a doctor on Tuesday. Indeed, that soreness was caused by a bulging disk between his T5 and T6 vertebrae.
The 26-year-old spoke optimistically about the injury Wednesday morning, admitting it was a setback but pointing toward a best-case scenario in which he's back to throwing within six or seven days. But Cashman and manager Joe Girardi were a little more reserved.
Both said Hughes' likely return date was closer to two weeks and advised a wait-and-see approach regarding whether this will alter Hughes' Spring Training schedule or keep him from making his first start of the season.
"There's concern, because we're not going to see him doing anything, really, for 10 days to two weeks," said Girardi, who dealt with similar injuries as a player. "Hopefully everything is OK after that [and] we get him back out doing what he's supposed to be doing. I am pleased that he feels a lot better than he did a couple days ago, but we've still got to worry about it."
For now, Hughes will continue taking anti-inflammatory medication for three or four more days. If Hughes is symptom-free at that point, he can begin working out in a pool. If he's fine after a few days of those workouts, he can begin throwing again. Hughes felt significantly better Wednesday than he did immediately after the injury, when he said it hurt just to get out of bed.
"I think we need to really get through this stuff to make sure it responds that way," Cashman said. "So it's a question mark until we can all forget that it ever happened."
The Yankees can take a slightly more optimistic outlook regarding how this will affect Hughes' schedule primarily because of how well they believe he prepared for Spring Training. Girardi said Hughes was probably stretched out and strong enough to throw two or three innings before the injury.
Hughes would have about a month to get himself game-ready if he's only sidelined for two weeks, so he wasn't particularly worried about his time off putting him too far behind the Yankees' other starters. Even Girardi said it's better for a pitcher be shut down for a few weeks at this point than closer to Opening Day.
"Especially because I felt like I was kind of ahead of the game with my throwing, threw a bunch of bullpen [sessions] before I got here. Thankfully it's early enough in spring," Hughes said. "It's a setback, but I still have a lot of time to get it right and not push it and make sure I'm 100 percent healthy, and that when I do pick up a ball in seven days, I won't be too far behind in my throwing or anything."
"He came into camp kind of ahead of the schedule," added Cashman, "so hopefully this two-week timeout overall will be not that big a deal."
If it does turn into a bigger deal, and Hughes' "timeout" stretches beyond two weeks, the Yankees' depth will be tested. New York doesn't have a long line of starting pitchers banging on the door of the Major League roster, and Hughes' absence could bring that to light.
Right-hander David Phelps was 4-4 with a 3.34 ERA in 99 2/3 innings over 33 games (11 starts) last season, and he could capably fill a spot in the rotation if a starter goes down. Past that, right-hander Adam Warren likely would be the seventh starter on the depth chart, and he gave up six runs in 2 1/3 innings in his Major League debut last year. In other words, this year's squad can't afford too many serious injuries.
"They're all problematic, so we just want to avoid it, but it's part of the game," Cashman said. "That's why you have to have a lot of depth, and I think we do have depth. You just don't want to ever have to test it, especially early."
Girardi, meanwhile, noted that the Yankees' depth across the board, position players included, is just "a little bit different of a style" than it was a year ago. There aren't as many well-known, experienced players waiting in the wings as there were last year, when veteran hitters like Raul Ibanez and Eric Chavez assumed greater roles than expected.
"I don't think you really know how good your depth is until it's tested. Then once you go through what we went through last year, we found out it was pretty good," Girardi said. "It's less experienced [this year], though."
The top of the starting staff isn't lacking for experience, of course, with 32-year-old CC Sabathia, 38-year-old Hiroki Kuroda and 40-year-old Andy Pettitte. And even with his injury keeping him off the mound for now, Hughes could at least acknowledge the irony of the rotation's young man getting shut down.
"I've got to get it right so I can get them off my back," Hughes said. "No pun intended."
Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.