First Pitch: OK, so now who pitches the seventh?

The loss of Mariano Rivera did more, of course, than deprive the Yankees of their closer.

It also will have a domino effect on the rest of their bullpen, one of the strongest units on the team.

With Mo, you could always work backwards from the ninth inning to determine who would pitch when. You knew Mo time, for sure, and the eighth belonged to David Robertson, the seventh to Rafael Soriano, the sixth to a combination of the Boone Logans, the Clay Rapadas and the Cory Wades. All you need are five good innings out of your starter -- preferably six-- and you're pretty much home free.

But now, with Soriano and Robertson moving up, there is a glaring hole that must be filled: the seventh.

But who do you fill it with?

Logan and Rapada are basically specialists who sometimes have trouble performing their specialties. Wade is fairly reliable, but he's more of a middle reliever than a set-up man, which is how the Yankees use their seventh-inning pitcher. There's Freddy Garcia, of course. And of course, I was only kidding.

There is, however, one perfectly viable option for that increasingly important role: Phillip Joseph Hughes.

So far, Hughes has been completely ineffective as a starter. This is disturbing because so far, now that spring training has anded and the real games have begin, the Phil Hughes of 2012 doesn; tlook much different from the Phil Hughes of 2011.

But he did prove in 2009 that he could be effective coming out of the bullpen, and assuming Andy Pettitte's return is no more than a start or two away, it might be time to try him out there again.

It also means, of course, that the Yankees need one more starter, which may necessitate giving David Phelps another chance, or maybe dipping down into the farm and giving Adam Warren a spot start or two, despite his less than inspiring 2-1, 5.26 record in AAA.

In any event, the bullpen that used to shorten the game for the Yankees just got shorter itself, and tat is a situation that needs to be rectified. By a happy coincidence from the Baseball Gods, Hughes will start against the Royals here on Sunday at about the same time Pettitte is making a AAA start in Rochester.

By the end of that day, we should have a better idea of where both of them stand.

In the meantime, let's hear your thoughts on the subject.

QUESTION: Should the Yankees make Phil Hughes the seventh inning guy? Or stick with him in the rotation for a little longer? Let us know in the comments section.

Up now: My column on David Robertson's first ninth-inning of the post-Mo Era.

Coming soon: Another fine What2Watch4 by Mark Simon, followed by open clubhouse at 3:40 p.m. New York time. Note that tonight's game starts an hour earlier than last night's did, at 7:10 p.m. Hiroki Kuroda (2-3, 3.69) gets the ball vs. Felipe Paulino (0-0, 0.00). I'll be updating the blog as events unfold, so stick your head in for a peek every so often. As always, thanks for reading.

QUESTION No. 2: It's Cinco de Mayo. Do you know where your Captain is? Derek Jeter is hitting .404 and leading the major leagues in hitting. Is it time to start taking this seriously? Or do you still need to see more from the old man?