TAMPA, Fla. -- New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said Phil Hughes, penciled in as the team's No. 4 starter before spring training began, might not be ready to start the regular season because of a bulging disk in his upper back.
"Is it in jeopardy, his starting? It's possible, yeah," Girardi said after the Yankees lost 10-7 to the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday at Steinbrenner Field. "I think it's too early to tell, though."
Girardi said that to be added to the rotation, Hughes would need to work his way up to being able to throw 75 pitches, which generally takes four or five starts. Working backward from the Yankees' last preseason game March 29 at West Point, Hughes probably would need to start a game by March 14 to meet that deadline.
Girardi said Hughes still was probably two weeks away from making his first start of the spring, which would put him at around March 12.
"He could probably get away with four starts," Girardi said. "So I think it's possible, yeah."
Added Hughes: "Every day is worrisome that I'm not throwing. But it's a double-edged sword. I don't want to push this thing and have it become a recurring issue, but at the same time, every day is a day lost, so I'm kind of in that in-between zone."
Hughes was shut down Feb. 18 after feeling pain in his midback during a fielding drill, and he has not picked up a baseball since. The right-hander completed a six-day course of anti-inflammatories, and for the past three days has been working in a pool at the Yankees minor league complex across the street from their training camp.
In the clubhouse Wednesday morning, Hughes said he was pain-free but still had no idea when he would be allowed to resume throwing.
"I could come in in two days and they could tell me, 'You're throwing today,' " Hughes said. "I just don't know beyond the pool work what the plan is for me.
They want to make sure it's completely calmed down before I can do anything."
Hughes could be left in Tampa to throw a simulated game or he could make a minor league start after the team heads north March 29, because the Yankees won't need a fifth starter until April 7.
Asked how many starts he thought he would need to get ready for the season, Hughes said, "I can't even tell you. I need as many as I would have gotten, you know? I'm a guy that needs work. If I get up to 70 pitches and I feel like I'm ready to go, then I'm ready to go. But it's not my call."