First Pitch: Four-pitch Hughes' importance grows

The last time Phil Hughes pitched, he threw 110 pitches. Eight to 10 of those pitches were sliders. Ten to 15 were changeups.

To go along with his fastball and curveball, those two pitches potentially make Hughes a starter who can last farther into games. Going at least three deep in quality pitches separates a starter from a reliever. It keeps hitters guessing on their second, third and fourth at-bats.

On Sunday, Hughes will be on the mound against the Orioles, trying to give the Yankees some more breathing room. Hughes, always California cool, is not going to be overwhelmed by the moment.

“This series isn’t going to make or break us,” Hughes said.

Hughes is a very important pitcher for the Yankees. At worst, he is a potential Game 4 playoff starter, going on the theory that the Yankees are still going to make the playoffs. If he is going to be truly effective, he needs to continue to use the slider and the changeup to plow through lineups multiple times.

Hughes first began throwing the slider in high school, but pretty much left it behind. Heading into his last start against the Blue Jays, Hughes fine-tuned it. He and pitching coach Larry Rothschild had been working on it, and Rothschild thought it would be smart to unveil it against the righty-hitting Jays.

The surprised Toronto hitters couldn’t lay any good wood on Hughes’ pitches, and Hughes had one of his best starts of the year, going seven innings and allowing just one run on four hits.

UP NOW: My column on Derek Jeter and how the Yankees’ experience could be the September difference. Mike Mazzeo on Eduardo Nunez and a notebook. My news story on Curtis Granderson’s injured hamstring.

ON DECK: Hughes faces Chris Tillman (7-2, 3.26 ERA).

QUESTION OF THE DAY: How big a win was Saturday's victory?