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Around the Yankee Universe: Phil Hughes edition

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OK, so when do you guys start screaming that Phil Hughes should be the 8th inning guy? or ... gulp! ... that he should stay in the bullpen forever.

We all know Hughes' future is as a fixture in the Yankees' starting rotation. Debating otherwise is really silly at this point. But, he sure has been fun to watch coming in as a reliever.

Over his last five outings, Hughes has thrown 7 1 /3 innings of scoreless baseball in relief. He has struck out nine and walked just one. And 66 percent of his pitches have been strikes.

His fastball hit 96 at one point Sunday night and his stuff has improved during the transition to the bullpen -- normal for any starter making the move, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

"He's been really, really good down there," Girardi said.

So good, in fact, that he is being forced to begin answering questions about whether or not he might want to stay there.

Hughes has relieved seven times this season and has a 1.50 ERA and a .122 batting average against. In his last five outings, he is scoreless over seven innings with three hits, one walk and nine strikeouts. Maybe this is just a short run of success, though Alex Rodriguez said, "[Hughes] is throwing the ball as well as anyone on our staff. He is a total asset."

Would anybody be surprised if in the not too distant future it is Hughes -- not Brian Bruney -- who is doing the main set-up work for Rivera? And is it possible that it will be Hughes, rather than Chamberlain, who is the heir apparent to Rivera?

"Yes, I want to be a starter still," Hughes said, sounding quite like Rivera 13 years ago. "But it wouldn't be bad to have Mariano Rivera's career. I want to be pitching in the major leagues. That is what is important to me. I think too many guys are too picky."

Hughes, 23, did not find the adjustment difficult.

"I really haven't had much trouble adapting going to the bullpen," Hughes said. "Sometimes you hear guys who it takes getting used to. But for me, it's just pitching. Every time out there, I just need to throw the ball well and not worry about what my role is."

Along with Bruney, David Robertson, Alfredo Aceves and Phil Coke, Hughes has been a huge part of the revamped and resurgent bullpen.

He might stay there the rest of this season, you never know. My take on it, though, is that the experience will simply make him a better starter in the long run. In the short term, it might just help the Yankees win big.