Here is a writeup from SWB Yankees beat writer Chad Jennings on Phil Hughes’ last start for Scranton. It pretty much sums up exactly what I feel we should see tonight. I’ll break it down by pitches below:
Fastball: Phil will be throwing a 90-93mph 4-seamer that is relatively straight but has good late life. He has the ability, when he’s on, to really paint the corners consistently. Because the pitch lacks a ton of movement and isn’t in the mid-high 90s, he struggled early last year to put guys away, often seeing batters foul off multiple 2 strike counts, only to allow a bloop, end of the bat single. The cutter seems to have solved this problem (more on that later). Phil is on a little extra rest, having last pitched on April 22nd, so you may see a little extra oomph on the heater in the first two innings with him tagging 95 a few times on the gun. He may lack optimal command for this reason also. If he can get past the first two innings without too much difficulty, he should settle in nicely.
Curveball: Phil throws two kinds of curves, a nasty spike curve that dives like crazy, down and out of the zone and a more traditional Uncle Charlie that he loops into the zone to freeze batters looking for a high fastball they can feast on. The spike curve is his real out pitch and when it’s going good, he can strike hitters out even when they’re looking for it – it has that much action. He can go through phases where he’s not getting great action on the spike, but from what Chad Jennings is saying, it’s currently working really well. If he’s hitting spots with his fastball and the curve is working, watch out – he may be unhittable.
Cutter: This is the reason he can be unhittable. This third pitch gives him the margin of error he needs to be great. Though he learned the cutter in only a couple weeks of fooling around while rehabbing his rib injury last season, it’s become perhaps his most consistent pitch. While he does not get the Ks he gets with his other offerings (only 1 K on the cutter in his last start, 4 on the curve and 2 on the fastball), it sets up the fastball, so that he gets crucial swings and misses from the heater. Throwing the cutter at 86-88 gets the hitters just out in front and over the ball enough to yield a ton of ground outs. Just when opponents start fixating on the cut, Phil freezes them with a good 4-seamer. In the 4th-7th innings of his last start, Hughes got every single out on either strikes or in the infield.
Changeup: I doubt we will see a singe change from Phil tonight. The pitch looked awful in the Spring and Chad calls the pitch “still a work in process.” I can’t imagine he’ll be tinkering with it during such an important game. Personally, I don’t think the pitch will ever be more than a “show-me” offering. Phil learned both the cutter and the curve in a matter of weeks, while it’s been years with no progress on the change.
Prediction: 6 innings, 2 runs, 3 hits, 3 walks, 5Ks. I think he’ll be a little too geeked up early on and get his pitch count up before settling in. We may see him tire at around the 100 pitch mark in the 6th and Joe needs to yank him after he starts pitching around the first batter in the inning and his velocity drops into the 88-89 range. He’ll either let in the runs early on with a couple walks and a bloop base hit, or he’ll make a mistake pitch later and give up a solo shot.