One of the biggest problems we’ve noticed with Phil Hughes over the last…forever, really…is his inability to put hitters away once he got to two strikes. It seemed like batters would hit an endless number of foul balls and then take pitches to even the count or get back ahead, and eventually, they’d reach via something hit way too hard for having two strikes. So for last night’s game, I decided to track the results when Hughes got ahead of the hitters, either 0-2 or 1-2, to see how he fared when he got ahead. Of course, I realize now this isn’t exactly scientific without comparing it to his other starts, but this is a jumping off point.
In the first inning, Hughes faced four batters and got ahead 0-2 or 1-2 on all of them. Here’s the sequencing. After falling behind 1-2, Endy Chavez saw five pitches. He fouled off three in a row, took a ball to make it 2-2, then struck out swinging. Next, J.J. Hardy also fell behind 1-2. One pitch later, he grounded out. Third hitter Nick Markakis was down 0-2 before taking a ball, fouling off a pitch, and then blooping one into left (at least that’s what John Sterling called it). Like he did with the first two batters, Hughes got ahead of Adam Jones 1-2, but Jones hit the very next pitch, a deep fly ball to right field for an out.
In the second inning, only Nick Johnson fell behind, and that was in a 1-2 count. He fouled off one pitch, then hit a tapper back to Hughes.
No one fell behind 0-2 or 1-2 in the 3rd.
In the fourth, Hughes got ahead of Chris Davis 0-2 and then threw two balls and allowed Davis to foul one off before Davis flew out to Eduardo Nunez. Wilson Betemit dropped down 0-2, took a ball, and then struck out swinging.
The fifth was a repeat of the third.
In the sixth, Nick Markakis fell behind again, then flew out to Andruw Jones. Adam Jones also fell behind a second time. He took a ball, fouled one off, took another ball, then grounded out to Robinson Cano.
All told, Phil Hughes threw 23 pitches when he was up 0-2 or 1-2 to nine batters. Obviously, nine of those pitches ended the at bat. Six were foul balls. Seven were balls.
Like I said earlier, this isn’t great because I don’t have much to compare these numbers to, but they FEEL better than they’d been in his previous starts. There was some encouragement from this game, as Hughes only walked one and struck out six. But, once again, he couldn’t make it to the sixth inning and surrendered two homers. This start wasn’t great by any means, but it certainly didn’t bury Hughes.