Hughes: 'Today was a big step'

TAMPA, Fla. -- A little after 8:30 a.m. Monday, Phil Hughes threw 26 bullpen pitches, taking another stride toward being ready to to start the season on time.

"Today was a big step," said Hughes, sidelined since mid-February because of a bulging disk in his back. "The other day I was feeling my way through these 10 [pitches.] Today, it was like I was throwing a normal bullpen. I wasn't thinking about my back. I was letting it go. I got through that without any issues. For me, it was a big positive."

Hughes will throw a batting practice session Thursday and then he believes he could be ready to pitch a simulated game or in a spring game. Hughes doesn't know the exact dates he needs to start pitching in preseason games to be ready for the regular season.

With a Yankees having an off day in the first week, it is conceivable Joe Girardi could push Hughes' initial start of the season to as late as April 7. In that scenario, CC Sabathia would start twice before Hughes would go once.

"I assume by [pitching coach Larry Rothschild] telling me I have a BP Thursday, I would be on track to be ready to go," Hughes said.