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OAK@NYY: Hughes strikes out nine in strong start

NEW YORK -- There was a deep exhale at the back of the pitcher's mound as Ichiro Suzuki's back hit the padding of the right-field wall in the first inning, taking away what could have been a leadoff home run for the Athletics' John Jaso.

Yankee Stadium has not been the most friendly place for Phil Hughes to pitch over the course of his career, but you couldn't tell for the rest of the day on Saturday. Hughes was excellent, spinning eight scoreless innings to lead the Yankees to a 4-2 win in the Bronx.

"I feel like I'm kind of clicking right now with what I'm trying to do," Hughes said. "I feel like I'm executing pitches at a better rate than I did early on. As long as I can hit the glove and stay there, and maintain my velocity and strength late in the game, then I feel like I'll be pretty good."

Hughes picked up his first victory of the season as he turned in his fourth straight solid outing, receiving a boost as Chris Stewart and Lyle Overbay homered to power the Yankees to their seventh win in nine games.

"It's always nice to give him some support," Overbay said. "It's good to see that he didn't change his way of pitching when we were down those last couple of days. He kept grinding and hoping we'd get him some runs."

After Jaso's deep fly ball to the warning track in the first inning, the Athletics managed just four hits off Hughes, who walked two and struck out nine for the second consecutive start while retiring the final 10 batters he faced.

"When I'm getting ahead of guys, it makes it a lot easier to do what I want to do during the course of the at-bat," said Hughes, who has a 1.93 ERA over his last four starts. "I was aggressive with my fastball again, I was able to get ahead and, for the most part, did what I wanted to do."

Hughes said that he has built up more arm strength after a bulging disk in his upper back kept him from making any official starts with the big league club this spring. The A's said that Hughes seemed to throw more fastballs than they expected.

"He threw strike one," Oakland's Josh Donaldson said. "He was ahead of everybody and works really fast. It's tough to get settled in on him, just because he was going so fast the entire time. He located his heater all day, pretty much, and the couple times he missed over the plate, we didn't make him pay for it."

Hughes said that a part of him would have liked to try for the complete game, but with Hughes' pitch count at 118, manager Joe Girardi said that was never an option.

Shawn Kelley permitted a leadoff single to start the ninth before Mariano Rivera entered to record the final three outs, allowing Kelley's run to score on a one-out single to right by Seth Smith before Josh Reddick's RBI groundout plated Oakland's final run.

Girardi said that Hughes' effort gave him some comfort in calling Rivera into the non-save situation.

"It's extremely important when you can get to the ninth and you have a four-run lead," Girardi said. "You feel pretty good about your chances with the guy that's been down there for so long. That's an important outing."

Former Yankee Bartolo Colon permitted three runs in 5 1/3 innings and is winless with a 11.05 ERA in his last five starts against New York.

Stewart opened the scoring by drilling his second home run of the year, a solo shot to left in the third inning. Overbay increased New York's lead with a solo shot into the second deck in right field off Colon in the fifth, Overbay's fifth of the year and third in his last six games.

Overbay said Colon's reputation as an efficient strike-thrower factors into the Yankees' approach.

"You've just got to be ready from pitch one," Overbay said. "Hopefully he'll make a mistake, and you have to be ready for it if it's pitch one or pitch 10. You know he's going to be around the plate, so you don't necessarily have to go after that first fastball.

"You know he's going to come back with it. It's just a matter of getting it up in the zone and taking advantage."

Robinson Cano reached a franchise milestone facing Colon in the sixth inning, stroking his 344th career double to tie Mickey Mantle for eighth place on the team's all-time list.

Cano scored on a Travis Hafner bloop single to left that chased Colon, who permitted six hits, no walks and struck out three. Eduardo Nunez tripled off Chris Resop in the seventh and came home on a Brett Gardner infield single to increase New York's lead.

"You keep extending your lead, which I think is important against this club, because they can strike quick because of the power they have in their lineup," Girardi said. "The bottom of the lineup was excellent. Just an outstanding performance by those guys."

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