After six seasons of being a source of utter frustration, it seems like Hughes has finally gotten it.
And I hate to say I told you so, but I did.
Countless times in the past, I have pointed out that Hughes lived and died by the speed gun. His fastball’s velocity went hand in hand with his confidence level.
At first, Hughes got away with primarily throwing his fastball when it clocked in at 93+ mph.
Like in his infamous All-Star 2010 season when he won 18 games, a number masked by the Yankee bats providing a ton of run support.
As expected this charade didn’t last long, as big league hitters eventually figured out Hughes’ love affair with his four-seamer. And it did not matter anymore whether Hughes was throwing 96 or 89 mph.
One time through a lineup, and then the home run parade usually started.
Honestly, after last season I started to question whether the potential I saw in Hughes was a hallucination.
And when Hughes showed up to 2011 Spring Training out of shape, I thought this guy doesn’t even care.
So I jumped at any opportunity to point out Hughes faults.
WHO IS AT FAULT?
I continually questioned why Hughes had dropped the slider out of his repertoire, as it was a plus pitch with break and it induced plenty of swings and misses in the minors.
It was actually the Yankees decision to shelve Hughes’ slider in favor of working on a cutter. That proved ineffective so he went with a curveball and changeup vs. lefties but still had no go-to pitch vs. righties.
Surely tossing him between the bullpen and rotation couldn’t have helped either, at it causes uncertainty due to lack of consistency.
Or his own?
Hughes has suffered countless injuries over the years, which stalled his over all growth.
Along with his off-season work ethic being criticized too.
So I think both sides have played a part in the delay.
JUMP TO 2013:
Starting the season on the DL with a bad back, I thought here we go again with Hughes being injured.
Hughes never pitched in a Spring Training game, nor did he face live batters before making his first start in Detroit.
This seemed completely reckless on the Yankees part.
Hughes struggled in that first outing vs. the Tigers, as well as his next one vs. the Orioles. (All stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com)
If you notice Hughes induced six swing and miss strikes in those two starts. A stat that proves very telling, as in his next two starts he combined for 16, and the two after that 33.
Looking back, I consider those two outing as the Spring Training/rehab starts he never got.
As Hughes has not been the same pitcher since, as his overall confidence looks different, just look at his last five starts:
- He has stopped relaying completely on his fastball.
- Is getting ahead in counts.
- Confusing batters causing swing and miss strikes.
- In 39 at-bats his slider has produced 21 strikeouts and held batters to a .154 batting average.
- More mature body language.
If Hughes can keep on developing his curveball and change-up this season, I believe he will only get better.
He also needs to keep concentrating more on locating his fastball and not on its speed.
To sum this up, the most confidant I had ever seen Phil Hughes pitch was back in 2009, when he was coming out of the bullpen.
That is until now.