NEW YORK (AP) - Yankees starter Phil Hughes received an injection of painkiller Wednesday to alleviate a seven-year-old back injury that recurred, but New York hopes he can pitch next week during the final series of the regular season.
Hughes had complained of a back spasm since Friday, when he threw a bullpen session in Toronto. New York pushed him back two days in the rotation and, after he was scratched from a scheduled start in the opener of Wednesday's day-night doubleheader against Tampa Bay, the Yankees sent Hughes for an MRI. The test found inflammation caused by a herniated disk, an injury Hughes sustained in 2004 during his first professional season.
"It's not too serious," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "The doc told me that it's nowhere near as serious as it was back then. It's just an aggravation of an old injury. If it was earlier in the season, we'd just kind of give him more time, and it would resolve itself. But because the clock is ticking, and October is right around the corner, we just decided to give the big bang, and try to put it behind him now."
Hughes returned to the ballpark after the epidural injection, which is used to treat lower back pain, and had his back iced. Cashman said there was a slight chance Hughes could be available for Sunday's home finale against Boston, but the series at Tampa Bay was more likely.
After going 18-8 last year, the 25-year-old right-hander is just 5-5 with a 6.00 ERA this season. Hughes was sidelined from April 15 to July 6 because of an inflamed right shoulder.
New York clinched a postseason berth with a 4-2 win over the Rays and heads to the postseason with CC Sabathia as its No. 1 starter, followed by rookie Ivan Nova (16-4). Hughes, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon are in contention for the other slots, and it's possible the injury might persuade the Yankees to shift Hughes to the bullpen _ his role for most of 2009.
"We really haven't had those type of meetings," Cashman said. "I think he'll be able to start or relieve for us, I believe, if that's what we want."
With Hughes' status uncertain, Rays manager Joe Maddon went to bed Tuesday thinking Sabathia would start the opener. When he woke up, he learned Hector Noesi was going in the first game and Sabathia was pitching the nightcap.
Gamesmanship by Yankees skipper Joe Girardi?
"It had an odor of that," Maddon said. "I don't know if that's exactly what was going on. I'm OK with gamesmanship. I'm into gamesmanship. It's part of the dance, and I'm good with all that stuff."
Maddon had lined up his pitchers the way he wanted. Figuring Sabathia would pitch first, he slotted James Shields for the first game and Jeremy Hellickson for the second. He sent both starters home early Tuesday night, then after the end of the game texted them which end of the twinbill they would start.
Once the Yankees announced Noesi as their first-game starter, Maddon decided not to switch.
"I don't want to keep throwing different thoughts into my pitchers' heads," he said.