Most of the baseball world looked on last night as Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez polished off a perfect game no-hitter (thanks, Juan Uribe) against the punchless Padres, returning to the rotation with a bang. Sanchez struggled as a starter earlier this season, posting a 5.62 ERA and a .836 OPS against in 65.2 IP before being shifted into the bullpen. After two effective relief outings, an injury moved him back into the starting rotation and the rest is history. I think you know where I’m going with this.
Phil Hughes posted numbers similar to Sanchez while working as a starter (5.45 ERA & .868 OPSA), albeit in a smaller sample, then was moved to the bullpen where he’s been wildly successful in a bigger sample. Yet when the opportunity came to move him back into the rotation due to injury, the team didn’t act. Instead he remains in the bullpen indefinitely, with no apparent plan to move him back into a more valuable role. Al Aceves, who was just as effective as Hughes in the bullpen, got the call for Thursday’s spot start because “he was more stretched out.” Aceves lasted just 3.1 IP thanks to his pitch count.
Now, am I saying Hughes would throw a no-hitter if they moved him back in to the rotation? No, of course not. That’s crazy. All I’m saying is that there’s precedence for a starter shifting to the bullpen, gaining confidence and honing his craft, then moving back into the rotation and being effective. Sanchez is just the latest example. Dan Haren also did it. So did Zack Greinke. And Adam Wainwright and Chad Billinglsey and countless others. Why can’t Hughes?
Phil may or may not be able to translate his success as a reliever into success as a starter, but how will you ever find out if you don’t try?