Innings watch: Yanks' Hughes skipped

Phil Hughes' birthday plans have been changed. AP Photo/Bill Kostroun

PHOENIX -- Phil Hughes has become a victim of his own success.

The Yankees right-hander with the 10-1 record and 3.17 ERA had expected to celebrate his 24th birthday, which is on Thursday, by starting the opener of a three-game series Friday against the Los Angeles Dodgers in front of a crowd that would include his parents, relatives and friends from nearby Mission Viejo, where he grew up.

Instead, having pitched 82 1/3 innings in less than half a season, Hughes' place in the rotation will be skipped and he will have to wait until the Yankees return home against the Seattle Mariners on June 29 to pitch again.

"Innings. Innings,'' manager Joe Girardi said by way of explanation. "He's made 13 starts and averaged over six innings per start. This is a hard guy for me to sit because of the way he's pitching for us, but we can't be shortsighted on this. We have to think of this year and next year and we have to think of his future. We want to make sure we have him for a long time.''

All season long it has been an open secret that the Yankees have Hughes on an innings limit, much as they did with Joba Chamberlain last year. Girardi refuses to divulge what it is -- even Hughes says he does not know -- but it is believed to be in the neighborhood of 175 innings.

With Hughes nearing the half-way point in innings and the season nearing its midpoint in games, and with an off day in the schedule on Thursday, Girardi said it was a good time to lessen some of Hughes' workload.

"There's only certain times you can do it where you don't kill your other pitchers or affect your bullpen,'' he said. "This was the perfect opportunity.''

In Hughes' stead, CC Sabathia will open the series on Friday, followed by A.J. Burnett on Saturday afternoon and Andy Pettitte on Sunday night. Because of the open date, all three will be on their regular rest.

Hughes pitched seven innings of three-run ball in the Yankees' 5-3 victory over the Mets Saturday, and now will go nine days between starts.

"It's definitely a disappointment,'' he said. "And there's really not talking them out of it. It's an organizational decision and that's that. I knew it was coming. It was just a matter of when they were going to do it.''

Hughes has worked at least seven innings in seven of his 13 starts this season. Of the Yankees five starters, none has more than eight wins and only Pettitte has a lower ERA, 2.47. Hughes was unsure if a limitation on his innings was necessary for his future well-being, but accepted that he was in no position to argue the point.

"It's hard for anyone to predict if they need [a limit] or not,'' he said. "I mean, some guys obviously didn't. Nolan Ryan never needed an innings limit. But some guys did. They want to be on the safe side, and I respect that because obviously they have my best interests in mind. I think anytime an organization does that for you, you're on board with it.''

Wallace Matthews is a columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

More from ESPNNewYork.com »