Phil Hughes and his changeup

The other Opening Day
Media hit: Newsday on Yankee bloggers

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.

The other Opening Day
Media hit: Newsday on Yankee bloggers
  • Realist

    Living in Florida I can’t get all the games and missed watching Hughes pitch last night….so my comments are based on what I read , rather than see.

    I was under the impression Hughes was working on a changeup this off season? If so , can anyone tell me if he used it last night? If not , it may be that it is still early in the season (third game) and he hasn’t mastered it quite yet or isn’t comfortable using it at this point? Either way , it can only help him and I wished I could’ve seen that game last night :-(

    Go Yanks!

    • Ben K.

      He used it twice, and both times, it looked quite good.

      • Realist

        Thanks Ben! Great news! How I miss watching the games!

        • steve

          realist. for the first week of the season their is a free preview for the mlb extra innings. most cable providers have the channel. try looking it up

          • Realist

            Thanks Steve! I will check it out :-)

  • Ivan

    Hughes was very good last night. His fastball had good movement and his curveball was terrific. Just nasty break. Hughes does has the potential to have a very good changeup but it takes time though.

    Overall nice start of the season from Hughes.

  • RichYF

    Phil’s fastball is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It goes straight but it’s almost always right around the knees. Any other pitcher throwing that pitch would be in the dirt. It’s almost impossible to explain it, but it’s incredible. I’m not worried about Phil and his change. If he throws his slider or a splitter he won’t need a changeup with that hammer he calls a curve. I saw some 88mph pitches last night that had the hitters off balance, but I wasn’t sure what they were. Anyone else know?

    • steve (different one)

      i think they were fastballs.

      Phil was throwing 90-91 last night, which may have concerned me a little, but then i went back and looked at the Gameday for his last ST start and he was throwing 94 and hit 95.

      i think it was probably the weather, and i expect him to start sitting at 93-94 after a few starts.

      that said, he did well.

      the Yankees have now won 2 games with their pitching. that has to make you feel good b/c you know the hitters will start warming up.

      • pete

        he split four seamers and two seamers about 70-30 last night, and the four seamer was generally in the 90-92 range while the two seamer was in the 87-89 range. He threw one at 95, though that may have just been a gun malfunction.

  • LiveFromNewYork

    Very happy with Phil. He looked amazing for his first time out and being so young. Too bad he didn’t get the win (Joba got it). He deserved it.

  • Larry

    Hey guys,

    Just saw the shout-out in the Game 3 thread post; much appreciated.

    Apologies for the inconsistent posting over at SPH, although seeing as how you guys almost always say exactly what I would have said re: any given Yankee topic, I don’t feel the need to get up on my soapbox all that frequently, unless it’s to give Steve Lombardi a hard time for his relentless Hughes-bashing.

    I can assure you guys I was extraordinarily pumped for Hughes’ start last night, and I thought he was terrific. The Rios RBI was really the only solid contact anyone made, and if A-Rod fields that ball cleanly – and I’m certainly not blaming him at all; I’m a huge A-Rod fan – but if he field it cleanly, Phil probably doesn’t give up that second run.

    Either way, I’ll take 6 IP/2 ER all day every day. Obviously it’d be great to see him regularly get to the seventh as the season progresses, but on a cold night/first start of the year, I have no issues limiting him to six.

    Other random thoughts
    – You gotta love how efficient he was – 58 strikes out of 87? And he started nearly every batter off with a first-pitch strike. Nice to see our boy pounding the zone and keeping these guys off balance with an array of 0-2 and 1-2 counts.
    – The 4 Ks were also a thing of beauty, especially Rios in the first and Thomas in the fourth. Initially he appeared dead to rights, although the overhead replay showed a pitch that was pretty clearly inside, so it seems Big Hurt might not have overreacted as badly as I thought he did. Still, watching BH get ejected was pretty awesome.

    • steve (different one)

      Lombardi’s post about Hughes today is one of the dumbest things i have ever read.

  • RollingWave

    boy the ump’s zone has been really bad this series though. it’s insanely inconsistent. Thomas was really ejected because of that. in pretty much one AB, Hughes came in the the exact same inside corner spot . the first one was called strike, the second one wasn’t, and the last one was. no wonder Frank’s pissed.

    • Rob_in_CT

      Yeah, the ump was definitely all over the place. I think Thomas was fairly out, but I would have been mad were I him. Phil threw that pitch all game long and it was about 50/50 whether it was a ball or strike. Molina looked irritated as well.

  • Micky#7

    Phil pitched a very efficient game…58 of 87 for strikes? We can see why people think he will be very good.
    IPK is up to-night, he is my pick for the most likely to exceed expectations. The guy knows how to pitch, with his fastball he better. He is much better than some would have you believe. He will get hit hard this year (as will others) but he is very good.

  • YES

    As he goes around the league there will a book on Hughes. Advanced scouting reports will say fastball-curve. Nothing else! Yes his first two pitches are excellent but you still need to throw that third pitch if your a starter. Everyone talks about Joba needing a third pitch if he’s going to be a starter well it’s the same with Hughes.

    • Ben K.

      He’s got two breaking pitches and he did use the changeup last night when he had to. If he’s getting outs with the fastball, there’s no reason to overplay the changeup.

      • steve (different one)

        he also has a slider that he threw in HS, but the Yankees made him shelve for his first season or two to protect his arm. i think he threw some last year, i expect we will see some more as the season progresses.

  • Glen L

    It was his first start of the year and lived up to every one of my expectations .. no reason to ever show more pitches than you have to

    yes, the league will get to know him .. at that point he should start deploying the change-up with more frequency, which i’m sure he will

    let go IPK tonight!

  • CB

    The change up is a real feel pitch. One of the biggest indicators for how good a pitcher’s change is relates to his confidence in it and his willingness to use it especially in big spots.

    That’s why it looks like McGowan may have taken another step forward in his development last night.

    Phil will be successful with his plus fastball command and curve. He’s only 21 and that’s so easy to forget – McGowan is 25 and is just gaining confidence in his change.

    If however, he does develop a plus change that will go a long way to Phil becoming an absolutely dominant, elite level pitcher. I think that’s why the change up is so important for him. It takes him to that next level even more than the slider.

    The combination of that fastball pounding the lower part of the zone for strikes and a plus change up will be deadly.

  • Dillon

    Will someone please tell me what they know about Hughes fastball speed?

    I’ve heard he hit 93mph in his last ST game consistently. I’ve seen video of him hit 95mph for an inning in the futures game. He seemed to be at around 94mph in his innings in relief in the playoffs against the Indians. BUT, other than that he’s always at around 91mph. I’m not saying he can’t get it done at that speed, because his fastball definitely surprises people. But, his ceiling would be of a true ace if he could hit 94 consistently. Does anyone think maybe when the weather warms he should be there? Mo had been sitting 93 all spring, and he was at 91mph last night, so maybe that’s it.

  • Greg G.

    I just wanted to add that Hughes may face the Blue Jays 3-4 more times this year. Why show them all your weapons now, when just two are working effectively?

  • Justin

    Hughes was straight up dealing last night. It’s so good to see the Franchise starting the year with the big club. He worked really hard this off-season, and you can see it in his face he wants this. You have to give Rios credit for hitting that curve in the 4th, that was a tough pitch down and away and he still pulled it into left, he’s a really great hitter. Franchise mixed his fastball and his curve very effectively last night, his changeup looked good when he got it in the zone, and his slider was absolutely silly the few times he threw it. The biggest thing for him before he ramps it to the next level will be commanding his changeup in the zone. I noticed a few of them in the dirt last night, aside from the two or so beauties he got in the strike-zone. A lot of baseball people say the change-up is the hardest pitch to perfect because of the deceptive practice of maintaining arm-speed while cutting velocity. It will take him a year or two to get it to a point where he can pound the strike-zone with it, but judging by the swings Matt Stairs and Lyle Overbay had at his change-up, it will be death to left-handed hitters. Phil Hughes is going to be dominant by the end of this season, and he will be Cy Young caliber within two years. He has an ever-improving four pitch repetoire and a very solid head on his shoulders. He is very exciting to watch and is one of the many reasons why I’m more excited for Yankees baseball this year than I have been in 8 years. This was a very impressive debut to 2008, look for him to be even better next time.

  • Justin

    He sat at 90-91 consistently last night. Although I saw him hit 95 on the gun in the 6th inning last night. Another thing, people say his fastball is straight which is just not true. It has a lot of natural run inside to right-handed hitters, and a ton of late life. It was 36 degrees at game time last night. Mo came out throwing 88-91 in the cold vs. 93-94 opening day when it was 20 degrees warmer. So don’t worry, when the weather improves so will Franchise’s velocity.

  • kunaldo

    i believe phil has admitted in the past to cutting back velocity to increase his accuracy…so maybe it was that….oh and a lot of pitchers need to build their arm strength still….so we’ll see what its like in a month or so

  • MD

    I’ve watched Hughes pitch in Trenton and NY……when I see his approach and stuff, I keep being reminded of Tom Seaver….as he fills out, it will be interesting to watch….

  • Mike A.

    Who cares what the gun says? The hitters were reacting like it was 94-95, that’s what matters.

    • steve (different one)

      because if he throws 91 now, in 10 years he’ll only be throwing 87.

      well, that’s what Lombardi said anyway.

  • ceciguante

    when i watch hughes i mostly see a straight fastball, and i’m actually surprised it doesn’t get hit more. some commenters here say it has late life, but i didn’t see that very frequently. i saw a little run to the right side on some, but many look dead straight. i think his effectiveness so far comes from his remarkably consistent fastball location: he’s almost never in the middle 2/3 of the plate with it, and most are at or near the knees. add to that the tremendous curve at almost 20mph slower — thrown for strikes! — and i see how he gets outs. but i saw very few changeups (~two is not enough to force batters to guard against it) and with a fastball that looks straight to me, i hope he can begin to mix in that 3d pitch convincingly. i doubt two pitches can carry a starter all season.

    • Ben K.

      Neither the game itself nor the pitch f/x data backs up that claim. Hughes has great movement on his fastball and stellar control. He’s working on the changeup, and he’s already working in a slider and curveball. So there are your three pitches.

  • GoYankees

    You’ll see more pitches from Phil if and when he gets hit. Until then who cares? Look at Mariano. With deadly command, two fastballs are enough.

  • pete

    remember, no matter who you are, if you can’t cheat just a little bit, even 90/91 is really, really, really fast. I faced 88 the other day and it was scary, so i can only imagine low 90s

  • Travis G.

    he also threw a few sliders last night (all for strikes).

    to whoever it was that said he couldnt see the game: try, they have archived versions of all the games for free.

  • joba

    hughes is the man