In his first two starts Hughes has a combined 16.50 ERA, pitching a total of six innings. In his most recent outing, Hughes was yanked in the second after the struggling Boston Red Sox scored five earned runs.
Even more concerning is that Hughes only had one strikeout in both outings combined, facing 33 batters total. Hughes also gave up 11 earned runs, three home-runs and four walks.
The Yankees have lost both of Hughes starts, as he has put the team into such a big hole very early in both games. This undoubtedly leads the Yankees to depleting their bullpen; and mentally sending in a pitcher mid-inning, down five runs is not very encouraging for anyone.
So, what should the Yankees do if Hughes implodes for the third time against the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night?
First, let me state the fact that the Orioles are not leading the AL East right now because of their bats, as the team’s batting average is only a .216. This gives the opposing pitcher an advantage already.
So, if Hughes doesn’t improve in this game against a weak line-up, changes are going to have to be made soon, if not immediately.
There are a few options, but the most rational solution that the Yankees must be start thinking about is:
How or where would be the best place for Hughes to work on getting his stuff back?
Logically, when you think where Hughes was most successful the answer would be the bullpen.
When Hughes was moved from the rotation to a reliever role mid-2009, it changed the Yankees season. From the moment his role transformed, Hughes’ mindset naturally followed. His fastball hang-ups vanished, as was proved when his velocity spiked.
This gave Hughes his confidence back after struggling as a rookie and the move played a significant part in the team getting to the 2009 World Series.
Imagine how unstable this 24-year-old is now. He is coming off an All-Star season, where he posted an 18-8 record to now be unable to do anything.
Yes, the second half of 2010 Hughes’ numbers started declining. His strikeouts went from 91 in the first half to 55 in the second and batters went from hitting .239 against him to a .250 following the All-Star break.
It was a slip, but nowhere nearly as bad because at least he could still get the team some wins.
If Hughes went back to the bullpen, he could be an efficient long-man and it might be the best chance for him to just let loose again.
Hughes needs to work on perfecting a third pitch because in all honesty, many pitchers have had successful careers with a 85-89 mph fastball because they had other pitches to get guys out with.
With Hughes, hitters know his fastball is coming regardless of its speed because he only has one other pitch. That is a breaking ball that never is thrown for a strike.
Batters tend to sit on Hughes and just wait for his fastball to come. Hughes fastball is lacking any command, as it is straight, flat and easy to hit. Tigers Miguel Cabrera is the perfect example proving this by hitting two homers off Hughes in his two at-bats.
Hughes has to work on his curve ball and get some self-assurance about throwing; something he seemed to be starting to do last season until he lost total command of it in the playoffs.
Otherwise, he won’t be a worthwhile starter. I doubt some miracle spike in speed will happen to his fastball, at least one that will stick long term.
If Hughes is hurting at all let’s just hope he is not masking it, which the kid would never do intentionally. It is part of human nature, which allows for sometimes-minor pain to get overlooked when under stress.
I know that veteran pitchers, like AL Leiter claim that Hughes needs to continue to get his pitch count up to get his velocity back. If anyone knows it would be Leiter, who also knows just as well that the team cannot take continual losses until Hughes fixes himself.
Sending him down to the minors might mentally scar Hughes who, with his buddy Joba has not been treated so carefully by the Yankees.
You might be wondering why am I jumping the gun on Hughes before he gets his third chance to prove himself?
Is giving Mike Mussina a ring that out of the question? Mussina could take on the famous “team advisor” title, with a specific role of working with Hughes.
Hey at this point the Yankees owe Hughes, at the very least, to try everything and anything to help.
The stuff is there, we have all seen it and I have confidence the Yankees will find it, but they can’t do it alone and how much Hughes can take will be tested.
- New York Yankees: Phil Hughes To Face The New Baltimore Orioles? (ladylovespinstripes.com)
- Hughes: Slow start has me concerned (nypost.com)
- Hughes hopes to find fastball Thursday against O’s (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Could Hughes’ issues be mechanical? (slidingintohome.blogspot.com)
- Mr. Mailbag Returns (zellspinstripeblog.com)
- Searching for Answers, Yankees’ Hughes Tinkers With His Motion (bats.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Yankees: Rodriguez, Posada, Hughes (thebaseballblog10.wordpress.com)
- Red Sox 9, Yankees 6: Red Sox Rough Up Hughes For First Win (nytimes.com)