Phil Hughes and the ALDS

Going into last night’s matchup I discussed how important a win for Phil Hughes would be.  Beating Boston last night would drop the magic number down to 1, it would temporarily quench the torrent of criticism rained down on Joe Girardi by guys like ESPNNY writer Andrew Marchand (who called Girardi “incompetent at best, delusional at worst”, an appellation better suited for Marchand himself), and it would also enable the Yankees to clinch in Toronto the following night, thereby alleviating the need for a Sabathia start on Tuesday.  Hughes did not disappoint.  In six innings of work, he allowed only 3 hits and 1 earned run, walking 4 and striking out 4.  This line actually suggests that Hughes was worse than he was, as two of those walks came in the top of the 7th when Hughes was clearly fatigued and lost his command.

Hughes continued his trend of mixing four pitches throughout the night.  The command of the fastball was better than it was in his last outing against Tampa, and he did a much better job driving it to either side of the plate.  His curveball was sharp, and it was particularly good on his strikeout of Drew in the top of the first.  The pitch didn’t even look like his regular curveball, it had far more horizontal action and was more of a slurvy, 1-8 curve than his typical 12-6 knuckle-curve.  You can see the pitch in this clip on MLB.com.  He also mixed in the changeup at times to lefties, throwing 9 by my count, a very good sign and an indicator that he will continue to use this tool even in the playoffs. His fastball was very good, and he got seven swinging strikes on it (and one swinging strike on the cutter), which shows how dangerous Hughes is as a pitcher when he has all of his pitches working at the same time.  Provided he limits his walks and commands his pitches, Hughes is not an easy pitcher to score runs against.

For that reason, and because of the fact that he has arguably been the team’s second-best starter this season (Pettitte has a claim to this as well, but Hughes has thrown some 50 innings more), Phil Hughes deserves a spot in the ALDS rotation.  I’ve written an awful lot about Phil Hughes this season, and the more I learn about him and watch him develop the more confident I become in his ability.  To be sure, his results were better earlier in the year.  He had more strikeouts and walks and was generally more dominant.  But the Phil Hughes we’ve seen lately is one with the command of four pitches and the ability to shut the other team down.  In arguably the biggest game of the season and biggest start of his career, Hughes was superb.  The excellence of his outing may have been lost on some fans given the frustrating offensive futility against Matsuzaka, but if the team had scored 4 runs the big story this morning would be about Phil Hughes, not Rivera, Rodriguez or Papelbon.

Hughes needs to get a start in the ALDS, and not just in Game 4. As Moshe has outlined, Hughes’ expected range of outcomes is far more preferable to Burnett’s, and he has simply pitched well enough to earn a spot.  If the Yankees win the Wild Card they will open the playoffs with two games in Minnesota.  Given what we’ve learned about Hughes’ home/road splits and the apparent desire of management to split up Sabathia and Pettitte, I think Hughes should pitch Game 2 in this scenario.  If the Yankees win the division and host Texas in the first round, then I’d hope the team would start Sabathia and Pettitte in Games 1 and 2 and Hughes in Game 3 on the road.  If they insist on splitting up Sabathia and Pettitte, then Hughes should be the Game 2 starter.  He’s been that guy for the team, and I’d trust him in October.

11 thoughts on “Phil Hughes and the ALDS

  1. I’d let Phil throw 4 innings on saturday in Boston and have him ready on regular rest to start game 2

    • It would certainly help to know two things:

      1. Whether they’ll be at home or away for Games 1 and 2.
      2. Whether they’re serious about splitting up the lefties

      My life would be so much simpler if I knew the answers to those two questions.

      • so would mine- i need to buy plane tickets…the longer i wait the more expensive they will be.
        If Andy had shut down the Rays would we might not even be considering the idea of them separating the lefties. I suppose against the Twins i’d have CC and Pettitte go 1 and 2.

        but you know they are gonna throw AJ out there for game 2….

        • You’re going to fly out for the playoffs? That is so awesome.

          • no–fly IN ( to NYC) for the playoffs ( i moved away a few days after the 2004 collapse) ( but not because of the collapse)

  2. Joe O

    I’d want my best pitchers pitching as much as they can which to me means CC, Andy, Hughes, CC (short rest), Andy (regular rest) regardless of home-road.
    Assuming I have the off-day schedule right in my head and there are no rain-outs, the ALCS and WS should be CC, Andy, Hughes, CC (short rest), AJ, Andy, CC (short rest).

    • FWIW, Ive been lobbying for CC-AP-Phil-CC-Andy for a solid month, but it does seem that they’re insistent upon splitting the lefties.

      • Joe O

        Great minds think alike. That or I stole the idea from you. Either way we’re both smart:)
        Split the lefties might have made sense if we had a solid righty we felt good about sending out there for game 5. Anyways we kept the lefties together last year and I liked the result.

  3. I don’t disagree with anything you said, Stephen. Last night’s game was huge for him. Huge for the team. As moshe has noted you pretty much know what you’re going to get from him. And i’m all for Hughes in game 2 now, assuming the Yankees are indeed hell bent on a splitting the lefties.

    Now i don’t think it will happen. I think the Yankees will go to AJ in game 2 and save Hughes for game 4. I think they’ll point to AJ’s success last year in game 2′s and ride the ‘it worked last year’ train as far they can.

    • I fear you’re right re: AJ.

  4. Mike

    I’d want my best pitchers pitching as much as they can which to me means CC, Andy, Hughes, CC (short rest), Andy (regular rest) regardless of home-road.Assuming I have the off-day schedule right in my head and there are no rain-outs, the ALCS and WS should be CC, Andy, Hughes, CC (short rest), AJ, Andy, CC (short rest).  (Quote)

    I agree 100%… normally you’d like to split the lefties but witht he days off Andy has to be the pitcher for a game 5… I’d go CC Andy then one of the right handers.

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