From a scouting standpoint, the same problems that have plagued Hughes since the second half of 2010 are still there, namely his inability to consistently put hitters away when he gets ahead of them. His strikeout rate suggests he’s getting better at this, but consistently making good pitches remains a problem. That Andrus at bat last night is a good example; he got Andrus out on his front foot with the curveball but, rather than burying the pitch in the dirt where Andrus would have flailed helplessly at it, Hughes left it a little bit up and Andrus was able to adjust enough to get the bat on it, making A-Rod charge to field it and giving an alert Mitch Moreland plenty of time to score. It looks like a minor thing, but it’s the difference between a run and a strikeout that gives you a chance to get the next batter and get out of the jam without any damage. Those things add up over the course of a season.
The real problem with Hughes right now, however, is the question of what to do with him. His profile right now is that of a reliever, but with the way the entire bullpen has performed in the season’s first month, the Yankees simply have no need whatsoever for another reliever. What’s more, you could plausibly argue that Hughes doesn’t deserve to displace anyone from the unit right now, unless you moved David Phelps into the rotation and gave Hughes the long man role (and it should be noted that Phelps’ line from last night is every bit as ugly as Hughes’). So if he’s not a starter, and there’s no place to put him in the bullpen, what, exaclty, do you do with him?
Here’s my suggestion: Double-A. Send Hughes down to Double-A with instructions to focus on rebuilding his secondary stuff, particularly his curveball, and forget about him until September. That sounds drastic, but I don’t know what else to do with him at this point. He’s flashing enough ability that I’d really hate to see the team give up on him entirely at this point, but he’s just simply not good enough right now to be a major league starter, and the Yankees probably can’t afford to continue to incur the cost of trying to let him figure it out at the big league level. If he can go to the minors and refine a power curveball that he can actually throw with some bite, there may actually be some hope left for him, but, otherwise, he simply doesn’t have the stuff to be more than cannon fodder at the moment.