NEW YORK -- Phil Hughes says that it is too soon to worry about footsteps creeping up behind him, but with so many starting pitching options in line, each turn through the Yankees' rotation is essentially judged as an audition.
If that's the case, Hughes might have fallen behind his competition through the early returns. The right-hander served up six runs in 3 1/3 innings, including homers to Chris Iannetta and Howard Kendrick, as the Angels roughed up the Yankees, 7-1, on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.
"I just threw too many balls in the middle of the plate," Hughes said. "I felt like my stuff was pretty good. I just wasn't locating. There were a couple that hurt me really bad. I was hitting the glove but not necessarily in the spots I wanted to."
Hughes' outing, demanding 84 pitches to record 10 outs, wasn't pretty or efficient. But to beat C.J. Wilson, it might have taken a perfect effort anyway, since New York's bats were stifled by a strong effort from the left-hander.
Wilson had asked to tour Yankee Stadium this past offseason as a free agent, only to be told not to bother visiting, since the Yankees had no intention of signing him to a long-term deal.
Making his second start for the Angels after inking a five-year, $77.5 million contract, Wilson responded by notching his first career victory against the Bombers with six innings of one-run ball. Robinson Cano accounted for the Yankees' only run with a fifth-inning RBI single.
"You can use it as a chip on your shoulder to get you through," Wilson said. "I think it's more of an aftertaste. You really focus on getting hitters out and not trying to strike out the front office. You have to go out there and get Cano out, get [Alex Rodriguez] out. That's the thing. You've got to find a way to funnel that and make it work for you."
Wilson scattered six hits and weaved out of trouble in the heart of the game, stranding two men aboard in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
"He was throwing his pitches wherever he [wanted], and he was throwing strikes," Cano said. "He pitched good, so you've got to give him credit."
The real bright spot for the Yankees was the work of rookie David Phelps, who mopped up after Hughes' exit, permitting just one hit -- a solo Vernon Wells homer -- in 5 1/3 innings of relief. Wells' homer was both the first hit and run Phelps has allowed in the big leagues.
"I try not to think about it as much as possible," Phelps said. "I'm trying to go out there and treat every hitter like any batter. Whatever the situation is, you've still got to go out there with Strike 1, and that's the biggest thing to come out of the 'pen -- to attack guys."
The Yankees have no intention of thinking of Phelps as anything but a long reliever at this time, splashing cold water on the ideas of anyone who might suggest that he would be an obvious choice to replace Hughes in the rotation.
Two starts is too soon for the Yankees to consider making such a drastic change, especially since Hughes had one of the best springs of any Yankees starter, removing any question that he should be included in the five-man rotation.
"You don't get too concerned with it," manager Joe Girardi said. "It's still early in the season. His arm strength is there -- the same arm strength that he had when he won 18 games for us [in 2010]. It's just a matter of making more consistent pitches."
Both of Hughes' starts this season have seen him burn through too many pitches in the early innings. After being bounced in the fifth inning by the Rays last weekend, he couldn't make it through four against the Halos.
"It's tough," Hughes said. "I came into camp, I felt good with my stuff throughout camp and things just haven't gone the way I would have liked. I just have to keep working hard and get things right."
Iannetta cracked a two-run blast, his first, into the right-field seats off Hughes in the second inning to put the Angels on the board, and Albert Pujols doubled home a run in the third with a deep drive to center field.
Hughes was done when Kendrick blasted the right-hander's 84th pitch into the left-field seats for a long three-run homer, Kendrick's first of the year. Hughes departed to some boos, exiting with New York down, 5-0.
While Hughes' velocity is better than last year, those results are under a microscope because the club expects Andy Pettitte to return to the big league level in early May, and righty Michael Pineda is also on the way back at a yet-undetermined time.
"I think if something pops where there's a guy ready, you evaluate the guys at the time, how they're throwing," Girardi said. "You don't rush to judgment. The thing about it is, there's no guarantees that someone else is coming in."
For now, the Yankees' stance is that no changes will be made, but they also expect that the Opening Day rotation will absolutely not be the one seen in October -- or, for that matter, at the All-Star break. As such, the evaluation process is continuing.
"I feel like I can succeed in this league," Hughes said. "It's something that I've done before and hopefully that I can do again. That sort of helps."