"I feel great," Hughes said emphatically. "Everything is coming around as far as my pitches go and strength, and everything is right on track."
At the end of April Hughes suffered a stress fracture in his ribs which has caused him to miss about four months.
It is the second year in a row an injury has caused him to miss a significant amount of time. Now he must start in September like it's April, which can be a little frustrating.
"It's definitely frustrating," he said. "You never want to miss any parts of the year and when it's significant amounts of time two years in a row it's especially frustrating.
"It's one of those things that you just have to deal with and you have to make the most of what's left in the season."
After all the time off it is typical to assume that there will be rust when he returns, but with just over a month left in the season he must shake it off quickly.
"It's coming out okay," said Hughes. "I feel like I'm throwing my fastball pretty well. My breaking ball has been decent and the changeup, you know it will come around. Overall I feel like I'm throwing the ball pretty well."
When he does return to the mound in the big leagues once again, things will be a little different. Before the injury Hughes threw a not so effective slider, which took a pounding in the major leagues. Now he's decided to ditch that pitch and instead has picked up a cutter.
"I wanted something a little harder," Hughes said of his decision to switch pitches. "Something that I could play off my fastball a little bit. You know guys have been gearing up for my fastball a little bit so I'll try to get my cutter in there."
Even though it's early, he is happy with the way it has progressed so far. He throws it similar to the way he threw his slider. He just holds it with a slightly different grip and throws it a bit harder and he says he's happy with the decision he's made.
"When I started throwing bullpens in Tampa it was just something I kind of picked up," Hughes explained. "I had scrapped the slider and started messing around with (the cutter) and it came pretty natural for me.
"It's only been maybe a few weeks since I've started throwing it so it's come along pretty quick. It's been a solid pitch for me so far."
It is natural to wonder if a pitch that he's just picked up on in the past couple of weeks will be ready by the time he gets back to the Bronx. It's something he's thought about, but it hasn't changed his confidence in the pitch.
"Yeah," Hughes said when asked if he thought it was ready to go up against major league competition. "I feel confident and I've thrown it five or ten times in the last two starts and I feel like I could throw it in a big league game."
The decision to make a change to his repertoire was one he made on his own, but that doesn't mean that his coaches haven't been impressed.
"I think that's going to be a plus pitch for him," Scranton pitching coach Rafael Chaves said. "He seems to be able to control it and the movement on the pitch seems to be very good. He gets a lot of velocity on the pitch so I think it's going to be a very good pitch."
As far as it's come in such a short time has impressed some, but it would be foolish to think that after just a few weeks he's mastered the pitch that has made Mariano Rivera famous. Just being able to throw a pitch doesn't mean that major league hitters won't be feasting on it.
"The way he was throwing the cutter when I saw him, he can throw it," said the Yankees Minor League Pitching Coordinator Nardi Contreras. "But he's got a learn to locate it. He needs to work to throw it in on the hands of left-handers and just right off the plate on the black against the right-handers."
Another thing that Hughes must work on to be successful during his next visit to the 'House that Ruth Built' is his changeup. It was the same pitch that he worked on last season and after getting lit up in the Bronx this April, he hasn't given up on improving it.
"He continues to work on his change," Contreras added. "That's a pitch that he's had a little problem with. He continues to push it a little bit instead of just pitching just like he does with his fast ball and his other pitches.
"When he throws it right it's very good, but he's got to continue to do it that way and to continue to do it in his mind and his brain."
Hughes seemed very satisfied when asked about his cutter, but when questioned about how the changeup was coming along, he changed his tune.
"Yeah, well you know you can never be satisfied with anything," he said. "You've got to keep working on things and get a bit better. It's something that is getting better and I'm just going to have to keep working on it."
A very underwhelming performance this April may be partially attributed to his injury. Although it will help to have his new cutter and improved changeup when he returns, Hughes is confident that either way he would have had success, but admits that it may be a little easier now.
"I pitched decent last year with my old pitches of just fastball, curveball, change, and the occasional slider," he said. "But I think I've added some things, I've changed a few things here and there. Hopefully it will help me come back and be competitive."
Right now Hughes is feeling good and working on some things in Scranton. He's slowly working his pitch count up to where he is able to pitch an entire major league game and he says that when the Yankees call that he'll be ready.
"Obviously you want to get back. At the same time I'm down here working on some stuff. When they feel I'm ready, I'll be ready. I just have to let them make their decisions and keep my head up and focus on baseball," he concluded.
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