We’ll forgive his results this time: the kid can pitch

Getting to know Alan Horne
Hughes da man!

It wasn’t spectacular. It wasn’t what we dreamed. But don’t let the naysayers fool you: it also wasn’t bad. Trust me, we’re going to see a lot of innings like last night’s second — strikeout, strikeout, ground out — once he settles into his new role.

Wednesday, I discussed the benefits of the rainout. And while the bullpen certainly needed a day off, and Andy Pettitte dramatically increases our chances for a win tonight, there was an intangible benefit to having Pettitte pitch Wednesday. Might Hughes have benefitted from watching Pettitte work the game prior to his? It’s not a yes or no question, but it’s definitely something to think about.

The natural reaction following any game like this is to watch Baseball Tonight and see what the “experts” have to say. Surprisingly, Orel Hershiser nailed the analysis: he was falling behind with his fastball in the first inning, leaving him little options behind in the count. It’s a common ailment for rookies, whether they’re 20 or 25, out of high school or with college polish. He came out in the second, flashed his curve more, and was able to make quick work of the Jays’s B hitters.

That kind of pitch establishment will come with time. And, according to the logic I subscribe to and perpetuate, he’ll best learn that in the majors. Some say that he needs to learn to hold men on and pitch with runners in scoring position. They say that if he faces many of those situations in the majors, he’ll overthrow and become susceptible to arm injuries. I feel that those people are better at reporting than analyzing.

Hughes’s struggles, for the most part, came against the Jays’s best hitters, which means he held his own easily with the lesser ones. Those lesser ones are what he’d be facing in AAA, with an occasional future major leaguer mixed in. How, then, does it make sense for him to pitch to nine bottom-of-the-order hitters in AAA? He’s got to learn from the big hitters in the majors. As for the overthrowing: that’s what he has a coaching staff for. He’s a smart kid. He’ll work on what he needs to between starts and come back stronger next time.

The big plus here is that his next start is against a team that swings and misses more, the Rangers. And it will be on the road, which will be a nice break from the intensity of Yankee Stadium. Yes, if he doesn’t pitch well there, I’ll become concerned. But I think this is an excellent opportunity for him to establish himself. His start after that would theoretically come May 6th against the Mariners at Yankee Stadium (a game to which both Ben and I have tickets). They have an excessively low team OBP and an anemic offense, which bodes well for our phenom’s third start. By that point, hopefully he’ll have impressed enough to earn a permanent rotation spot.

I thought that they gave him the hook a bit early; it would have been nice to see him try to work out of the jam. I understand their reasoning for pulling him, though. Not something I’m going to get all pissed about. What I will get pissed about is Doug Mientkiewicz batting second. I’ll never understand this, but it seems to be a tenet in baseball: if you have a late scratch, you plug someone into his spot in the lineup instead of reordering it. I just don’t understand. Is there some kind of rule against rewriting the lineup card? Or is it just easier to cross of Jeter, write Mientkiewicz, and cross out Mientkiewicz and write Cairo?

Anyway, it’s terrible lineup construct. You want the guys who get on base the most at the top of the lineup, because they will get more at bats. Ergo, more baserunners for the Yanks, which means a higher run scoring environment. But when you have your leadoff man sandwiched between two automatic outs, it really defeats the purpose of him leading off.

Then again, it’s not like the three through eight hitters got anything going. Giambi had a couple of hits, but was fooled into thinking he has an inkling of speed. And even if he had some semblance of speed — that of, say, Matsui — he still would have been toast at second. He was barely rounding first when the ball was fielded, and it wasn’t particularly deep. Just a frustrating, frustrating out. When he hit a single later in the game, the entire right field bleachers gave him a very visual red light. Not that he needed it, but it was funny, anyway.

After Hughes’s exit, the electricity was gone from the stadium. Thankfully, the bleacher creatures kept everyone entertained for a few innings. Two innings were spent heckling Vernon Wells. The best part: he acknowledged and played along. Last week, Grady Sizemore ignored his heckling. Wells, though, was waving to the crowd and shrugging his shoulders in response to a chant of “overrated.” My personal favorite chant; “Your name’s Vernon, clap, clap, clap clap clap.” As much fun as it was, if I was John Gibbons, I’d definitely tell him to knock that shit off.

The best chant of the night, though, was directed at a fan in the upper deck, who was standing up at the edge, very visible to the bleacher creatures. Unfortunately for him, he was wearing a pink cap (it was red and white, but from a distance it looked pink). Bored and restless, the creatures struck up a chant of “jump, jump, kill yourself.” Not exactly in good taste, but I got my chuckles out of it.

It’s raining like crazy in Manhattan, so there’s a definite possibility of a rainout tonight. Which would be a shame, because I was really looking forward to teeing off on Julian Tavarez. A rainout would make it Pettitte vs. Matsuzaka tomorrow and Wakefield vs. Wang on Sunday. Hopefully, though, the rain lets up and we get a chance to return the favor this weekend.

Sorry, no WPA graph today; it’s too depressing. You can find it at FanGraphs if you’re interested.

Getting to know Alan Horne
Hughes da man!
  • John

    I would welcome the rain. Yes, we’d miss out on Tavarez, but we also wouldn’t have to throw Karstens. I think we can win Pettitte-Matsuzaka and Wang-Wakefield. And any game we don’t lose now is a game we can win later.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

    Good point. The next time we face the Red Sox, we could have a more established Hughes in the rotation.

  • Yankee Fan in Chicago

    I dunno, I wouldn’t be concerned if he had another so-so start against the Rangers. Took him more than one start — what was it, about 3 or 4? — to adjust to AA, so why wouldn’t it be similar in the show?

    I’d look for him to really start showing his stuff agains the Mariners. In fact, I was saying 2 weeks ago that he should’ve been facing the A’s for his first start, another weak hitting AL West team, and one that plays in a hitter’s park. Oh well.

  • Jesse G.

    Great piece and great blog. I love your work. Keep it up.

    One quibble though. When you say “Surprisingly, Orel Hershiser nailed the analysis” I have to disagree with the idea that it is surprising. I think that Orel is by far the best ex-player analyst in the game right now. He does such a great job of explaining the mindset that players (primarily pithcers) probably have in a given situation and breaking down the strategic and mechanical minutiae of pitching in a way that is both compelling and easily understandable to the layman.

  • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph P.

    Thanks for the kind words, Jesse.

    Orel Hershiser is hit or miss for me. Sometimes he’s very insightful. Other times, he says things like “a gyroball is a screwball.” Patently false.

  • yankz

    There were some great chants. “Fuck Canada” during “O Canada” and even “God Bless America” were hilarious.

    Some guy in LF (near me) asked Adam Lind, “Have you ever been mugged? Because you suck at baseball!” It doesn’t make sense, but it was funny.

    And ditto Jesse’s first line.