Through seven starts and 34.2 innings, Phil Hughes’ season numbers are nothing special. The Yanks’ promising young right-hander may be 3-2, but he sports a 5.45 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. Those numbers, though, do not tell the entire story: Hughes’ numbers are inflated due to one very bad game in Baltimore.
To better assess Hughes’ season, we can omit — but not forget — that Baltimore appearance. When we do, the stats look better. In his six other starts, Hughes is 3-1 in 33 innings and sports a 3.55 ERA to go with a 1.27 WHIP. He’s averaging 8.45 strikeouts per 9 innings, and opponents are hitting .238 with a .775 OPS against him.
While Hughes is still learning how to be economical with his pitches at the Major League level, I was quite surprised when the Yankees opted to send the 22-year-old to the pen in order to get Chien-Ming Wang back into the rotation. After all, Hughes was just one start removed from an eight-inning, no-run appearance against the same Ranger ballclub the Yankees faced yesterday, and he hadn’t pitched poorly enough to earn a demotion. Still, the Yankees wanted Wang back in the starting five, and into the bullpen went Hughes.
As Joe noted in the recap, Wang started out strong and finished poorly. He had his best stuff early in the game with a fastball nearing 94 and a heavy downward tilt on the sinker. As the game went on, though, Wang’s velocity decreased and the ball trailed up. His final line — 4.2 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 5 K — was an improvement over his April efforts, but it wasn’t a resounding return to the rotation that the Yankees and their fans had hoped to see.
For now, the Yankees are saying that Wang will make another start. With the way the Yanks have yanked around Hughes and Wang, the team should commit to giving their erstwhile ace another shot, and there are sure signs that Wang should be better. As the velocity chart linked above shows, Wang got tired as the game wore on. Another start should help him build up stamina. However, as Joe noted, Wang is pitching in Fenway next week. His career numbers there are ugly, to say the least.
With this in mind, I’m left right back where I started. I still don’t know why the Yankees bumped Phil Hughes out of the rotation in exchange for a less effective Chien-Ming Wang who wasn’t ready to start because the Yankees reactivated him from his rehab assignment a start or two on the early side. I don’t see why the Yanks didn’t want Phil starting, and I don’t see what, beyond a sample size of five innings, convinced them that Wang was ready to go. The discussion over who, between these two candidates, should be starting is far from over.
In the end, though, the Yankees may have a temporary route away from this debate. Andy Pettitte definitely didn’t have his best stuff on Wednesday, and with his control suffering in the first few innings of the Yanks’ loss, it seemed as though his back wasn’t where it needs to be. If the Yankees skip Pettitte to give him some rest, they can use Hughes and Wang in back-to-back games next week, and armed with more data from both pitchers, we can continue to flesh out what should not be a closed book.