Hughes back in bullpen, shades of 2009

There will be no Phil Hughes audition for a starter’s role in the playoffs. Yankees manager Joe Girardi has decided that the team would be better served with Hughes in the bullpen, a role that he handled particularly well in 2009. Besides, with no need for a fifth starter in the postseason, Hughes was the most fitting choice of those in the rotation to work out of the pen.

Hughes, who has been bothered by back problems that required an epidural injection, pitched out of the pen Monday night at Tropicana Field in his first appearance in two weeks and his second since Sept. 6.

The righthander showed some rust with two walks in the fifth inning but after giving up a leadoff double to Matt Joyce in the sixth Hughes came back strong by getting Casey Kotchman on a foul pop behind the plate and striking out Terry Shoppach, who had homered earlier off Raul Valdes, who himself is auditioning for a bullpen role as a situational lefthander alongside Boone Logan.

Starting in place of Hughes was Hector Noesi, who lasted only four batters into the third and lost the 2-0 lead the Yankees had taken by the third inning by Robinson Cano, who set a club record in the process. Cano socked his 28th home run in the first inning and broke Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri’s franchise mark for RBI by a second baseman. Cano added a run-scoring single in the third.

The Rays grabbed the lead in the bottom of the third and only a bizarre rundown play kept them from pouring it on. B.J. Upton doubled in the tying runs and scored the go-ahead run on a single by Johnny Damon. Then the strange play occurred. With Evan Longoria on third base, Damon broke for second. When catcher Russell Martin threw to second, Damon stopped in his tracks and got in a rundown. He was tagged out by Jorge Posada, who was playing first base and made a nifty jump over Damon and threw home to nab Longoria trying to score.

Another weird situation occurred in the fifth when Martin was ejected by plate umpire Paul Schrieber, who left his position behind the catcher and walked in front of him, sort of a no-no for umps. Who knows what Martin said, but Schrieber’s action made him seem the antagonist. That meant rookie Austin Romine, who caught all 14 innings of Sunday night’s game, had to strap on the gear again.

The Yankees are having their problems with umpires lately. Girardi was tossed Sunday night by Tim McClelland. Joe was basically trying defending Nick Swisher for arguing a call at first base and making sure the player didn’t get ejected. Girardi also pointed out to McClelland what a bad night he was having in a polite manner, I’m sure.

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