The Word On Phil Hughes

Phil Hughes pitched a great game last night against the Tigers, going 6 shutout innings while allowing just 2 hits. This performance has moved him off of the bust pile, as writers in NY rush to fawn over a guy they left for dead a few months ago. I thought it would be interesting to see the thoughts on Hughes from 3 guys who have, for the most part, actually remained in Phil’s corner all along.

From Pete Abe:

If you were watching closely, Hughes had to fight to get command of his curveball. It was all over the place in the first few innings, even when he threw it for strikes. When he struck out Placido Polanco in the first inning, it was on a curve that was screaming to be hit.
But Hughes made the adjustment between innings, a skill that eluded him last season.
“He was getting quick with his lower half and I said something to him,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said. “He made the adjustment whereas last year he had something else in his head. He’s much more focused and confident now.”
For me, it was the best Hughes has looked since May 1, 2007 in Texas. He no-hit the Rangers for 6.1 innings that night and struck out six. But he also tore his hamstring.

The ability to make in-game adjustments is what distinguishes a good pitcher from a mediocre one. Most major league pitchers can succeed on a night where they come into the game with everything working. It is the nights where they need to tinker with their stuff and make adjustments on the fly that separate the men from the boys. This is something that Phil struggled with in the past, and it is good to see him learning how to be a real pitcher rather than a thrower.

From Joel Sherman:

You know what Phil Hughes looked like on Tuesday night? He looked like a guy worth waiting for. He looked like the kind of guy you do think long and hard about giving up, even for Johan Santana. He looked like part of the solution for the 2009 Yankees……

But there was an awful lot to like watching Hughes shut out the Tigers for six innings. First, give him credit for working his way back to this moment. He was just handed a rotation spot last year, spit it up and the Yanks reacted by filling up the five rotation spots without him. But he pitched well in spring training, better at Triple-A and tremendous vs. Detroit. Here is what stood out for me: His poise was overt. The final score was 11-0, but when Hughes was on the mound he was locked in a 0-0 game against Edwin Jackson. Hughes appeared focused and unflustered. He was simply executing one pitch after another, even when it looked as if home-plate ump Derryl Cousins was squeezing him a bit.

And in the blog yesterday I wondered about the slow development of a third pitch. But his cutter was very good Tuesday, especially in his ability to run it on the hands of lefty hitters. That made his fastball – which had strong carry through the zone – even more impressive.

I think Joel hit on the two key points about this performance: Phil’s poise and his cutter. In regard to his cutter, see Tom’s posts below for more on that. Regarding his poise, I think this was the most marked difference between Phil last night and Phil in 2008. He seemed like he was in full control all evening, going after hitters and refusing to buckle under the pressure of a scoreless game and a four game losing streak.

Regarding the Santana deal, I think we can close the book on the prudence of that decision. The Yankees gave up the chance at Santana so as to keep Hughes and Kennedy, and acquire CC Sabathia. While it is possible that Santana outperforms all three players, that does not change the fact that Brian Cashman made the right choice in refusing to complete that deal.

Finally, from Tyler Kepner:

Here’s a prediction. It’s easy to make now, after the last few games, but if you’ve seen them pitch and followed their stories, you believed it even before. Phil Hughes and Mark Melancon won’t go back to the minors.

From your lips to Mo’s ears.

0 thoughts on “The Word On Phil Hughes

  1. StandingO'Neill

    I’m a big Hughes fan and have been defending him for 2+ years now, but I hope people don’t get too carried away here over his start last night. He did a great job, and it was a pleasure to watch. However if he can’t build on this start and pitch effectively for the rest of 2009, or God forbid suffers another injury, people will be calling him a bust again faster than you can say Boston sucks.

    And I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar that instead of talking about how welll Hughes pitched last night, Francessa will use it as an opportunity to make his case for Joba moving back to the pen. This will be amusing considering it’s only one start, which if it were Joba he’d ignore it. And the fact that Wang is non-existent right now.

    I’d love to see the day where Joba is a legit #1, Hughes is a solid #2-3 and Kennedy is bringing up the rear, along with Melancon closing out games.

    • mryankee

      I agree I have liked Hughes for awhile. I think that he pitched shutout ball against a very good Tigers lineup and on the road is very encouraging.The VELOCITY AT 92-94MPH much better than before. I hope Joba can follouw up with pitching like ke can and not trying to pace himself. If Edwin Jackson, Matt Graza and Josh Beckett can pitch 95-97mph a game why cant Joba?

  2. Leftylarry

    His velocity was more 89-93.Mostly 92.I like him and always have but that cutter doesn’t cut much and his fastball is very straight.I think his breaking stuff is first class though.We’ll need to see how he fares 2nd time around with these teams, especially teams like the Red Sox & Tampa before we know if he’s a potential #2-#3 or the #4-#5 many around baseball think.

    • Moshe Mandel

      I’ve seen no one around baseball call him a 4-5. The cutter has 6 extra inches of horizontal break and 4mph less when compared to his fastball, which makes it very effective. His FB is fairly straight, but he locates it very well.

    • Tom Gaffney

      mlb.com stats had him hitting 94 a lot more than he was hitting 89 w/ his heater, so 90-94 is more accurate. Typically, his fastball is straight as befits a normal 4-seamer, but he may have had more movement on it last night b/c mlb.com kept calling it a 2-seamer. The impressive thing last night was that he DIDN’T have his great curveball working, so he was getting his outs on fastballs and cutters.

      The cutter doesn’t have to move much to get guys out. The key is that it moves down and in to lefties and looks exactly like a fastball until the last split-second. Hughes seems to have mastered that. Every time I’ve seen him throw it, hitters look like they have no idea what’s a cutter and what’s a 4-seamer.

  3. Tom Gaffney

    He “was getting quick with his lower half”? It’s taking all of my admittedly limited self control not to comment on that. So… many… jokes.

  4. And I thought I was an optimist!
    He can pitch well enough to be a #1-3 starter…as most know…let’s see him prove it! I kind of think he will, he has the talent, now he needs the opportunity. He will pitch a bad game but, who hasn’t?
    Go for it Phil!

  5. DaveinMD

    I don’t know where you get that Joel Sherman has always been in Phil’s corner. He panned him after his first major league start and has often said he’d be a number 3 at best. Sherman an awful writer.

    • Moshe Mandel

      I seem to remeber him preaching patience about Phil. Maybe I’m confusing him with someone else.