ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -Phil Hughes will be making his major league debut earlier than expected.
A day after getting swept by the Boston Red Sox, the New York Yankees said Monday they plan on having their top pitching prospect start Thursday against Toronto.
New York had been saying all spring that Hughes would progress slowly through the system. But after his team dropped four games behind the AL East-leading Red Sox, Yankees manager Joe Torre didn't rule out that the 20-year-old right-hander, taken in the first round of the 2004 amateur draft, might make more than one start.
``If we're comfortable and we sense he's comfortable, we'll see what we do,'' Torre said before the Yankees played Tampa Bay.
Hughes is 2-1 with a 3.94 ERA in three starts this season at Triple-A Scranton, and he pitched six shutout innings last Wednesday at Syracuse, allowing two hits, striking out 10 and walking none.
``It's a necessity for us,'' Torre said. ``They don't think it's the wrong time for him. His ability, his presence, I think he's mature enough.''
Torre said Hughes was the only minor league pitcher recommended by the player development staff to make Thursday's start.
``I'm anxious to see him,'' Torre said. ``He doesn't say much. He just goes about his business. I'm sure it's going to be electric for him.''
In Sunday's 7-6 loss at Boston, Chase Wright made only his second big league start and became only the second major league pitcher to allow homers to four consecutive batters. Before last week, Wright had not pitched above Double-A.
Wright was optioned to Double-A Trenton on Monday when the Yankees activated left fielder Hideki Matsui from the 15-day disabled list.
``It was a good experience,'' Wright said. ``I learned a lot. Go back to Trenton and just keep working hard and hopefully I'll get another opportunity.''
New York is scrambling to cope with injuries to its starting rotation. Chien-Ming Wang is scheduled to come off the disabled list Tuesday following a hamstring injury. Andy Pettitte, who already has pitched twice in long relief, starts Wednesday, leaving Jeff Karstens, Kei Igawa and Wang to start against the Red Sox this weekend at Yankee Stadium.
Matsui had been out since straining his left hamstring on April 7.
``It took probably 10 days to where I was pretty close,'' Matsui said through an interpreter.
Mike Mussina, on the DL with a hamstring injury, is scheduled for a bullpen session Tuesday and could pitch in a minor league rehab game Friday, most likely for Scranton at Harrisburg. If all goes well, Torre said Mussina is on line to pitch against Texas on May 3.
Carl Pavano, sidelined with right forearm tightness, played catch for a second straight day, but there is no timetable for his return. He stills feels a ``grabbing'' sensation when throwing.
``It will work its way out,'' Pavano said. ``Just keep working through it.''
Notes: CF Johnny Damon, who has been slowed by back soreness, was not in the starting lineup. Torre said he wanted to give Damon one of the two games off on the artificial turf at Tropicana Field. ``I'm very capable of starting tonight,'' Damon said. ``With the outfielders here, it's really easy to rest me.'' ... C Jorge Posada (left thumb) was back in the lineup. He didn't start the previous two games. ... Backup C Wil Nieves, who dislocated his left thumb catching a pitch during Sunday's game, said he was available to play. ``It was scary,'' Nieves said. ``It never happened before.''

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