Lost among the excitement of A-Rod’s 500th home run and the Yankees 16–8 pasting of the Royals was Phil Hughes ugly return to the Yankee rotation. We’ve been waiting over two months for this day to come, and I know plenty of Yankee fans are more than a little worried about the kid after today’s showing. Here are my thoughts on his start:
His final line: 4.2 innings, 6 earned runs, 7 hits, 2 walks, 5 Ks, 92 pitches, 63 strikes.
The game was basically a tale of two pitchers. In the first two innings, Hughes faced 7 batters, struck out 4, walked 1 and gave up zero hits. His fastball ranged from 90 MPH up to 94. He showed his curve, but never threw it for a strike, and really never needed it. His fastball had exceptional movement in on a righty and away from a lefty. His command was exceptional, he was painting the corners and it seemed to me like he was getting squeezed a little bit by the ump, but he didn’t let it bother him.
While Hughes was dominating, the Yankee batters were busy abusing Royals starter Kyle Davies. They plated 4 in the top of the first, and there was a long delay when A-Rod hit his 500th bomb. Not an excuse. Pitchers need to deal with long rests when their offense is putting runs on the board.
In the third inning, Hughes ran into his first bout of trouble. This inning wasn’t his fault. Joey Gathright led off with a bloop double down the left field line. It might have been foul (I thought it was). Either way, a tough break. Hughes then got the #9 hitter LaRue to pop out to second. David DeJesus then singled to center to score Gathright. This was the first hard-hit ball off of Hughes, and it was also the second time through the order. Keep this in mind. Grudzeilanek then grounded out. Mark Teahen stepped up with DeJesus on second and on a 1–2 count blooped a double over third base. Not hard hit, not a bad pitch, just a bad break. 3 hits, 2 runs in the third isn’t that big of a deal. His fastball had slowed a bit here, the pitch Teahen hit was clocked at 91 MPH by the YES radar gun.
The fourth inning was uneventful. Gload singled to center, Alex Gordon hit into a double play, and Tony Pena struck out swinging. His fastball topped out at 91MPH again. The Yankees went back to work in the bottom of the fourth, scoring two more runs. Another long layoff.
The top of the fifth was an unmitigated disaster. Gathright walked (leadoff walks score 60% of the time), LaRue flew out to center, DeJesus homered to right, Teahen singled to center then Butler doubled to deep center, scoring Teahen. Hughes was then lifted and Mike Myers allowed Teahen to score, closing the books on Hughes. In this inning, Hughes never touched 90 MPH, his fastball was in the 86–89 MPH range.
This outing doesn’t leave me worried. I think it was probably to be expected. Hughes has been on the rehab tour for a couple of weeks now, and he’s probably been kicking himself for over two months for the stupid injuries which robbed him of most of the season. The adrenaline was pumping early in the game, and his fastball was overpowering. He basically went through the entire order without having to use any of his off-speed pitches. After a couple of innings, however, the adrenaline wore off and with it went the extra zip on his fastball.
At this point, he tried to break out the curve, but it just wasn’t there. The movement was, but the batters were spitting on it because he couldn’t get it over. The thing that surprised me the most was the absence of his change. By my count, he only threw two the whole game. Against Texas, his change was deadly, especially against lefties. The two that he threw today were both in good locations, with good movement. I was shocked he didn’t go to it in a couple of key situations. This may be a case of his head getting too big. He had so much success with the fastball in the first two innings, he thought he could just rear back and throw it by the Royals.
Obviously, it’s Jorge’s job to make adjustments when the hitters start catching up to the fastball. Now, we get to the only thing about this start that really alarmed me. Hughes consistently shook Posada off after the second inning. This has to stop. I realize that Phil is a perfectionist, and he goes into games with a plan, but he needs to lean on Jorge, especially when the going gets rough. Jorge knows the batters, and he’s in control of the game. Hughes became predictable, and I have to think Jorge was trying to change the patterns, but Hughes was shaking him off. Hopefully, once they work a couple of games together, they’ll be on the same page out there.
The takeaway from this game is that Hughes is human and stubborn. He was amped up at the start of the game, he was able to control the adrenaline and dominate, but when the adrenaline wore off he didn’t adjust to compensate for the lost velocity. Instead of leaning on Posada, he thought he could do it himself, the way he’s been doing it his whole life.
He’s a kid, he’s learning. I expect his next start to be much, much better. When he’s firing on all cylinders, I expect his fastball to be in the 90–92 MPH range throughout the game, with an occasional 94–95 when he needs it. With that type of heater, with movement, a change-up in the low eighties, a 12–6 curve in the low 70s/high 60s, impeccable control and a fierce demeanor on the mound, he’s an ace in the making.