Hughes An Unsung Hero
In this Yankees downturn Phil Hughes has been of the few players to step up. Hughes pitched a gem last night in Boston to help keep the Yankees in first place. It does not matter what the lineup for Boston looked like, it was a huge spot in a pressure situation, as it would have been embarrassing for the Yankees to drop that series vs. Boston. Hughes pitched 7 1/3 scoreless innings, allowing just five hits and a walk while striking out seven. He really has been an unsung player this season.
Hughes will probably never be the ace the Yankees hoped for, but since April he has really established himself as a solid starter. Because he has never lived up to being an ace some people have unfairly criticized him. Since April, Hughes is 14-9, with a 3.53 ERA. You have to throw out April because of the adjustments he has made since then. He is a completely different pitcher now.
First in April, Hughes’ cutter was just an awful pitch and he scrapped it. Then, Hughes started to struggle vs. lefties, so he developed a changeup. After that he started to struggle vs. righties, so he developed a slider. Hughes and the coaching staff really deserve a lot of credit for making these adjustments. To top it all off Hughes is 10-4, with a 3.56 ERA at home, in a park that does not suit his style whatsoever. Imagine what he could do if he pitched in one the parks out west, where less of his fly balls would go out of the park.
Having had an injury plagued career up to this point, Hughes has remained injury free and has pitched 175 innings this season. With the injuries the Yankees have had to endure those innings are huge. His 3.70 SO/BB ratio is the best of his career. Hughes sometimes gets wild in the zone, but his 2.1 BB/9 is extremely impressive. Last night he recorded all seven of his strikeouts on fastballs, which was good to see because of late his velocity had seemed to drop just a tick.
Last night was also not the only big game Hughes has pitched of late. In his last start Hughes pitched a big game vs. Baltimore. The Yankees had just lost an excruciating game the night before after a big comeback, so they really needed to bounce right back. Hughes was solid in going six innings and allowing two runs in 8-5 Yankees victory. Also, back in August, Hughes saved the Yankees the embarrassment of being swept by Toronto by pitching a gem, as he threw 7.1 scoreless innings that game.
With Hughes’ development the starting pitching is the strength of this Yankees team. If Andy Pettitte returns to form, their top four of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Pettitte, and Hughes could be the best one through four of the potential AL playoff teams. They will be relying on them to get into the playoffs, and if they do they cannot be counted out in October if those four pitch to their potential.
Hughes is still only 26, so he should continue to improve. If he has another good season next year it will be very intriguing what kind of contract he will receive. If I were a team with a big park I would be lining up to try to sign him. Hughes has a good deal of value now, which is good because that is more then the Yankees can say about most of their young pitchers right now. The once fragile Hughes has turned into one of the Yankees’ toughest players this season.