TAMPA, Fla. -- Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes threw 26 pitches in a batting-practice session on Thursday and said that he believes it is still possible to be ready for the beginning of the regular season.
Hughes was sidelined last month with a bulging disk in his upper back, suffered while covering first base during fielding drills. He said that he felt no physical issues during Thursday's session at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
"I was a hair off with my command, but I sort of anticipated that with not having been in a somewhat adrenaline-filled pitching scenario," Hughes said. "Other that that, I felt great. I felt like the ball was coming out pretty good, so that's a first step."
Hughes said that he felt "excited" to be back on the mound for the session, which was watched by manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild. Hughes pitched to Minor League hitters Addison Maruszak and Walter Ibarra.
"I hadn't been out there in so long," Hughes said. "It's good to actually face a hitter for the first time since last [year's] playoffs. It was a good feeling."
Hughes' next outing is expected to come on Monday in a simulated game, and Girardi said that he needs to see Hughes prepared to make 90 to 100 pitches to consider giving him a regular-season start.
With that in mind, it is possible that Hughes could miss the first turn through the rotation during the regular season, allowing either Ivan Nova or David Phelps to make a spot start in his place while Hughes builds up in a Minor League outing.
"I'd rather it be one start than a bunch than pile up if I'm not right when I get back," Hughes said.
Yanks anticipate catching tandem of Cervelli-Stewart
TAMPA, Fla. -- Joe Girardi wants to clarify that he has not officially decided who his Opening Day catcher will be, but the Yankees are locked into the idea that Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart will be handling their pitching staff this season.
Girardi said on Thursday that he has been pleased by what he has seen from the catching tandem, and even though the Yankees still want to figure out how to divvy up the innings behind the plate, the manager is happy that his catchers are putting defense first.
"I think these guys have played pretty well in camp. They've done a nice job with our staff," Girardi said. "Coming into camp, I think there were some questions about Cervy a little bit about throwing, because he had struggled in the past, but we had seen him really good when he first came up. I think he's back to that level again."
Cervelli and Stewart had something of an advantage this spring over other catchers, like prospect Austin Romine and veteran non-roster invitee Bobby Wilson, because they are both out of Minor League options.
Girardi said that he might wait until the season begins to figure out exactly how much Cervelli and Stewart will play, but he said from personal experience that situations where a starting catcher plays in three of every five games can be option, as well as assigning personal catchers to certain pitchers.
"It can work out pretty well, actually," Girardi said. "You can do it that way, keep them fresh, they know when they're playing. I think that's the big thing if you can sort it out as soon as you can, so they have a plan of when they're playing. I think that's important."
Youk a bright spot in Yanks' forgettable tilt
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- There were not many bright spots to be had in a day that the Yankees will probably quickly forget, but Kevin Youkilis provided something to be encouraged about.
Youkilis belted a long solo home run off Blue Jays right-hander Josh Johnson and later legged out a fifth-inning triple in New York's 17-5 Grapefruit League loss on Thursday.
"He's starting to swing the bat good and has driven a lot of balls the last couple of days, and that's what we want to see," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
Youkilis started slowly this spring after first trying the pinstripes on for size, but has appeared to settle in as the games peel off toward Opening Day. Youkilis played first base on Thursday against Toronto, but Girardi said the Yankees haven't decided which infield corner he will play more regularly when the season begins.
• Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson will hold a benefit for his Grand Kids Foundation on Friday between 5 p.m.-10 p.m. ET at "The Patio" in Tampa, Fla. Granderson will mingle with fans and be a guest bartender. He will also be joined by some of his Yankees teammates. For more details, visit www.patiotampa.com.
• Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that he has liked what he has seen this spring out of Thomas Neal, who has seemed to be overlooked in the outfield competition. Girardi said that Neal, who saw big league time with the Indians last year, "just seems to know how to play the game."
• Right-hander Jose Ramirez had been stellar in his first three appearances of the spring, permitting just four hits and no runs in nine innings. The 23-year-old's fortunes reversed on Thursday as the Blue Jays hammered Ramirez for six earned runs in one-third of an inning, with four walks and two hits.
"You know, it happens," Girardi said. "You move on."
Yankees right-hander Adam Warren also struggled mightily in the contest, allowing eight runs on four hits with five walks in 1 1/3 innings.