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Hughes, Martin power Yanks to victory

August 19, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — If he keeps pitching the way he has lately, Phil Hughes could play a huge role for the Yankees down the stretch. At the very least, he is going to make it difficult for manager Joe Girardi to decide which starter to take out to get back to a five-man rotation.

Hughes dominated the Twins on Friday, backed by a pair of Russell Martin home runs, as the Yankees cruised to an 8-1 victory at Target Field, maintaining their half-game lead over the Red Sox in the American League East.

“I thought he mixed his pitches tremendously,” Girardi said. “He used all his pitches tonight.

“And all his pitches have been consistent, [that] is the biggest difference for me.”

After giving up a solo home run to Trevor Plouffe, the second batter he faced, Hughes did not allow another hit until the eighth inning. Hughes issued a leadoff walk in the second before retiring the next 14 batters in a row.

Overall, Hughes retired 22 of 27 batters faced.

“I just tried to stay aggressive, and it seemed like they were as well,” Hughes said. “It kind of played to my advantage, and I got a lot of quick outs. I made a couple mistakes, but I got away with most of them. The only one that really hurt me was Plouffe in the first inning.”

Plouffe also walked in the seventh inning, and he joined Jason Kubel as the only two Twins hitters to reach base twice in the game.

They were the only Twins to reach base until Twins infielder Luke Hughes singled in the eighth.

“I think he was establishing his fastball early and getting ahead of hitters, and then mixing in his cutter,” Plouffe said. “I think a lot of his pitches come in at the same arm angle, so that’s what makes him tough. He was just getting ahead and throwing strikes tonight.”

As Hughes went 7 2/3 innings with two strikeouts and three walks, it marked the first time this season the right-hander has tossed a pitch in the seventh or eighth innings. Hughes had previously pitched six innings in a start four times, including in his last outing, against the Rays.

After Hughes struggled through his first three starts of the season, he was placed on the disabled list with arm fatigue. Before going on the DL, Hughes was 0-1 with a 13.94 ERA.

Since returning in July, Hughes has been steadily progressing, with his best start of the season coming Friday night against the Twins.

“Sometimes it takes a while to get a feel when you haven’t pitch for a while, to get all your pitches,” Girardi said. “You’re trying to go through rehab starts and you get two innings, and then you get three innings. It’s hard to get a feel for a lot of your pitches when you’re only doing that. But it just seems like he’s got a much better feel.”

Martin connected for his 14th homer of the season in the third, a solo shot off Twins starter Kevin Slowey, and added a two-run blast in the sixth.

With his fourth career multi-homer game — three of which have come with the Yankees — Martin has hit three home runs in the last two games after hitting just two over his previous 34 games.

“I just kind of simplified my approach,” Martin said. “Just kind of going up there and just swinging the bat hard and trying to see the ball. See the ball, hit the ball. That’s really all I’ve been doing.”

The Yankees also scored in the fourth and fifth innings, with second baseman Robinson Cano coming up with the biggest hit of the game aside from Martin’s blasts.

Following a leadoff double by Mark Teixeira in the fourth, Cano crushed a 2-2 curveball to the gap and off the right-field wall. Teixeira scored the go-ahead run on the play, and the Yankees added on a pair of runs in each of the next two innings to give Hughes plenty of support.

In the fifth, Brett Gardner scored on a double down the right-field line by Curtis Granderson, and Derek Jeter added the second run of the inning, courtesy of a sacrifice fly by Teixeira, with Jeter sliding in just ahead of the tag by Joe Mauer at the plate.

Slowey, whose night was ended by Martin’s second home run, allowed six runs on nine hits with four strikeouts and a walk over 5 2/3 innings.

After Gardner was the only member of the Yankees’ starting lineup without a hit Thursday night, Eric Chavez earned that honor Friday.

Teixeira added a two-run double in the ninth to finish with three RBIs, putting him at 1,000 RBIs for his career. He is the 27th active player to reach that mark.

While his batting average is down this year at just .252, Teixeira now has 94 RBIs, two shy of Granderson for the team lead.

“I’d love to have a higher average, no doubt,” Teixeira said. “But at the end of the day, if I can drive in a lot of runs, that’s what’s best for my team in the middle of the order.”

Jordan Schelling is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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