NEW YORK -- Phil Hughes knows every player goes through ups and downs throughout the season. This year, though, the Yankees right-hander said it seems like it has been mostly downs.
The biggest blow to his season came on Tuesday, when manager Joe Girardi made the decision to demote Hughes to the bullpen and insert David Huff into the starting rotation.
Hughes said he wasn't blindsided by the news, but said he was "disappointed and surprised." He also said he expects the demotion to last longer than one start.
"It's disappointing, there's always kind of the emotion going into it, but at this point, we're in the middle of a playoff race here and that was the decision they wanted to make," Hughes said. "Huff's been throwing the ball extremely well and I haven't all year, so I see why they made the decision."
Hughes has lost a team-high 13 starts this season, winning just four games and compiling a 4.86 ERA over 26 starts. His struggles have magnified of late, as the right-hander has lost 11 of his last 13 decisions and posted a 6.12 ERA since the start of August.
"I've tried a lot of different things. It's just been one of those years," Hughes said. "I've tried adding different pitches and this and that and the other and at a certain point, it's 'Where do you go from here?' It's been frustrating, but I still feel like I have some time in the bullpen to turn myself around and get myself back on track."
Girardi said before Monday's game that he hadn't considered replacing Hughes in the rotation because the two top options -- David Phelps and Michael Pineda -- are both hurt. But Huff has allowed just one run over 15 innings since being called up from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Aug. 15 and had worked as a starter during his time with the Indians and RailRiders, giving Girardi another option.
Hughes has experience as a reliever, too. He thrived out of the bullpen during the Yankees' World Series run in 2009, going 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA over 51 1/3 innings. In his career as a reliever, Hughes has a 1.44 ERA and averages 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings, compared to 4.72 and 7.3 as a starter, respectively.
The right-hander attributed the difference in success between roles to being able to "let it go" as a reliever and not have to worry about pitching deep into games.
"When you know you're just down there for an inning or two, everyone's stuff kind of bumps up a little bit," Hughes said. "You see it time and time again from anybody who used to be a starter and goes into the bullpen. It gives you a little bit of extra juice."
Hughes said he didn't know yet what his role would be in the bullpen, and Girardi said he would look at the situation on a daily basis before deciding how to deploy the right-hander. The Yankees already have proven options in Shawn Kelley, Boone Logan and Preston Claiborne before David Robertson and Mariano Rivera come in in the eighth and ninth innings, and Hughes said he didn't see himself "in that mix."
"Before, we worked him in kind of slowly," Girardi said. "But I've seen him do it before, so he should have confidence that he can do it. We'll just see."
Hughes is a free agent after this season, but he said he hasn't thought at all about how this will affect how -- or where -- he pitches next year.
"I don't really think about that," Hughes said. "I'm just kind of more worried about the day to day and doing whatever I can to help this team. Hopefully, it's a good September we have and we have some more baseball after that.
Robertson not pleased with poor outing
NEW YORK -- When David Robertson entered Wednesday's game against the White Sox, the Yankees led by five runs. When Robertson walked off the field five batters later, New York led by just one and Mariano Rivera was coming in to try to convert a four-out save.
The Yankees setup man allowed two inherited runs to score then allowed two more of his own to cross home plate in the eighth inning, pitching just one-third of an inning and giving up two runs on three hits and a walk on 20 pitches.
Rivera picked up the save as the Yankees capped off a series sweep of the White Sox with a 6-5 victory, but Robertson made the game a lot closer than it could have been.
"That's definitely what I don't want to do," Robertson said. "I don't want to come into a game like that, turn around and make it to where it's a one-run ballgame. I stunk out there, and Mo had to come pick me up. It happens. You pitch in 65, 70 games a year, you're going to have a couple bad ones. Tonight was one of them."
Yankees starter CC Sabathia came out to start the inning, recording one out and giving up two singles before being removed from the game after 111 pitches.
Right fielder Avisail Garcia drove in one of those inherited runners, tagging Robertson for an RBI single through a hole in the left side of the infield. Robertson then got first baseman Jeff Keppinger to fly out to right for the second out of the inning before walking left fielder Dayan Viciedo.
Catcher Josh Phegley and third baseman Marcus Semien followed Viciedo's walk with back-to-back RBI singles to center, ending Robertson's night as Rivera came in to record the final out of the frame.
"It's just one of those days," Robertson said. "It just seemed like every pitch I made was too short or too low or right down the middle and it got hit. It's a tough outing. But like I said, you pitch in enough games and you're going to get knocked around in some of them."
There was some controversy during Keppinger's at-bat, as home-plate umpire Tim Welke said Keppinger fouled off a pitch that would have been the third strike. Replays showed Keppinger did not tip the ball, and Robertson lobbied for Welke to check the ball.
"He ended up getting the guy out, so I don't think [he was affected by it]," manager Joe Girardi said. "But I was."
Robertson had only pitched one time in the last nine days entering Wednesday's game, and his appearance against the White Sox was his first since Friday.
For the season, Robertson is 4-1 with a 1.88 ERA.
"We brought in guys that have done the job all year, and they eventually got it done," Girardi said. "But it probably got a little closer than all of us liked."
Girardi expects Yanks to continue daily focus
NEW YORK -- The last time the Yankees played the Red Sox, Ryan Dempster hit Alex Rodriguez, the benches cleared and tempers flared.
But when Boston comes to New York on Thursday, nearly three weeks will have passed since that game. Hopefully, manager Joe Girardi said, the time has diffused the tension between the two clubs.
"I think that obviously we know what's at stake, and we have to go out and play the games and win the games," Girardi said. "That's the most important thing."
Despite what happened the last time the two teams met, Girardi said he doesn't expect there to be any added attention from Major League Baseball or the umpires on what happens on the field.
Besides, he didn't want the Yankees to look forward to those games just yet. First, he said, they have to focus on finishing off a sweep of the White Sox on Wednesday.
"I want to make sure we're concentrated on today," Girardi said. "We had a chance to sweep over the weekend before this and blew a lead. It can happen quickly, so we've got to keep the pedal to the metal."
The Yankees did just that, escaping with a 6-5 victory to close out the White Sox.
• Rodriguez batted sixth in the lineup on Wednesday, but Girardi said that was just a way to split up the team's left-handed hitters.
• Ivan Nova was named American League Pitcher of the Month in August, going 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA.
• On this day in Yankees history, Jim Abbott became the club's second left-hander to throw a no-hitter, beating the Indians, 4-0, on Sept. 4, 1993.
Josh Vitale is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.