Who needs Johan Santana?
For six innings last night, Phil Hughes had the Blue Jays off balance. For six innings, Hughes mixed his pinpoint accuracy with a deadly curve with a stellar fastball. He held the Jays to two runs on four hits while walking one and striking out four. He threw two-thirds of his pitches for strikes and showed why we were totally opposed to seeing Hughes sent to Minnesota.
While the Yankee offense has yet to click, the pitching has held up quite nicely in three games. The bullpen was stellar again last night with Billy Traber recording his first Yankee out and Brian Bruney looking like a new man on the mound. He threw strikes with confidence. The Joba-Rivera show closed out the game, and suddenly, the Yanks’ opponents are faced with the prospects of seven-inning games this season.
But the story was Phil. At the urging of a reader, let’s look at Phil’s pitch selection. Justin, a RAB regular, e-mailed me about Hughes shortly after the game ended:
Good game pitched by Hughes, but he could of been so much BETTER! He’s a two pitch pitcher right now. Yes they’re above average pitches but he’s got a very good changeup that he’s not even using (or only used twice…and both times they were effective!). Look at how effective McGowan was tonight with his changeup. He got some huge strikeouts with his change (A-Rod) and he kept the hitters off balance for the first 6 innings.
Justin believes that if Hughes deploys his changeup 10-15 times a game, he’ll be even better. Right now, I’m withholding judgement. Unlike Mike Mussina with his slow, slower, slowest approach, Hughes can rely on his fastball to get outs. It’s accurate; it has late life; and when he mixes in his curve, the fastball is even more effective.
Oh that curveball. Phil Hughes’ curveball was a thing of beauty tonight. Looking much like it did against Texas in the second game of Hughes’ career last year, the ball danced its way into the strike zone, fooling Blue Jay hitters and keeping them off balance. The curve is why, right now, I think Hughes can pick and choose his spots for a changeup that he is still refining. The curve, in fact, is something of a changeup. Hughes was sitting around 90 mph with his fastball last night and around 71 with a deadly break on the curve. Throw a 71 mph curveball and that 90 mph fastball looks pretty fast.
Today, Phil Hughes is the second-youngest player in the Majors, and at age 21, he’s only going to get better and stronger as the years go by. As Hughes matures as an athlete and a pitcher, he’ll gain more velocity on the fastball and more confidence in what could be a deadly weapon: his changeup. But for now, I am more than satisfied with his pitch selection and thrilled with Mr. Hughes’ first start of the season.