TAMPA, Fla. — For an off day, it was a pretty eventful afternoon Monday for the New York Yankees.
Although there was no exhibition game scheduled, manager Joe Girardi got to observe three of his most important pitchers — Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes — pitch on the fields of the team’s minor-league complex.
Pettitte and Rivera even pitched at the same time: Pettitte on Field 1 and Rivera on Field 2 against different squads of Toronto Blue Jays minor-leaguers.
First, Hughes threw 41 pitches in a simulated game as he works his way into pitching shape after missing time early in spring training with a bulging disc in his upper back.
One of the first batters he faced, Yankees minor-leaguer David Adams, hit a one-hop comebacker that nailed Hughes in the lower back.
“I wouldn’t expect any less,” Hughes said. “Good test for it, I guess.”
Hughes was uninjured by the comebacker and completed his afternoon’s work still hoping to take his first turn during the regular season on April 7 but understanding it’s not really a big deal if he doesn’t.
“If I make 31 starts instead of 32, something like that, that’s the plan, that’s the idea,” Hughes said. “Not have a setback trying to rush things.”
The Yankees could simply use both No. 5 starter candidates Ivan Nova and David Phelps in the season’s first week if Hughes has to start the year on the disabled list.
“He took it real serious,” Girardi said. “I could see it out there. For Phil, I talked to him a little bit about not trying to push it too much too early. Just take it where it’s at and we’ll take it one thing at a time.”
Hughes’ next step will be to pitch in a minor-league game. That’s what Pettitte and Rivera — who are a combined 83 years old — did Monday.
Pettitte, facing Toronto’s Class A players, threw 79 pitches (61 for strikes). He gave up two runs, eight hits and struck out seven in five-plus innings.
“Just a work in progress,” Pettitte said. “I was able to get my pitch count up. It was good. Got through it. Feel healthy. Do it again on Saturday.”
Rivera’s appearance was notable because he went two innings against another squad of Toronto’s Class A players. He struck out four.
“I think he made the team,” Girardi said. “He looked good. He threw two innings and you could really see his ball cutting.”
Between innings, Rivera sat down on the end of the bench next to a Yankees minor-leaguer. The youngster looked like he was about to pass out from the excitement of having a legend sit next to him.
Rivera overpowered the young hitters, breaking several bats. Then he went for a run. All traces of the knee injury that wrecked his 2012 season seem completely gone.
Of pitching two innings, Rivera said: “I wanted to stretch it a little. I have to throw. So why not? Beautiful day.”