Prior to yesterday’s game I said that it would be a pretty big test for Phil Hughes because it was going to be the first time all season that he’d be facing a team for the second time. While his final line was pretty ugly (5 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 3 K, 2 HR), the Yanks’ starter was only one pitch away from escaping the game with just two runs allowed, but it was clear the Red Sox were a little more prepared this time around.
As a reminder, here’s Hughes breakdown from his May 7th start against Boston…
Last night he threw 52 four-seam fastballs, 30 cutters, 14 curveballs, and three changeups, so he did go to his offspeed stuff a little bit more than he did a week or so ago. Here’s the breakdown from last night’s game…
So there’s quite a bit going on here. For the most part, Hughes attacked Boston’s hitters the same way the first time through the order. He basically replaced two four-seamers with one cutter and one changeup. The result was three singles and a run, but 49 pitches thrown to the first nine hitters. That’s more than five pitches per batter. The Red Sox swung and missed just twice, and fouled off 17 (!!!) of those 49 pitches, which is one more pitch than they fouled off in his entire May 7th start. They had an idea of what was coming, but they were just missing. A lesser pitcher might have gotten knocked around a bit more. That’s a testament to the quality of Hughes’ stuff.
The second time through the order is when Hughes and Frankie Cervelli really changed up the scouting report and went heavy with the breaking balls. The result was just two baserunners – a seven pitch walk to Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz’s homer. He needed just 33 pitches to navigate Boston’s lineup the second time through the order (3.67 pitches per batter), drawing three swings and misses and five foul balls. Still a lot, but basically in line with his rate from his May 7th start.
The third time through the order was flat out ugly. With two outs in the 5th, Marco Scutaro stepped to the plate for the third time, singling to center on the seventh pitch of an at-bat that featured three consecutive foul balls on a 1-2 count. Pedroia followed with a double to left, and that came after ten pitches and five foul balls. Hughes was at 96 pitches by then and was visibly gassed. J.D. Drew fouled off two of four pitches before homering, and Kevin Youkilis ended the inning on three pitches. Those four batters saw 25 pitches, fouled off ten of them, and swung and missed a total of zero times. Joe said it this morning and it’s worth repeating: Hughes had trouble putting hitters away last night, especially in the 5th inning when his pitch count got up there.
Whether or not this impacts how Hughes pitches in the future, when he starts facing the rest of the league for the second and third time, is anyone’s guess. It’s very possible that it was just a bad night and he didn’t have his best stuff. It was bound to happen at some point. The Red Sox do have a really good lineup (they’re 2nd in the league in homers, runs, and OPS, and 4th in OBP), so we have to give them credit for making him work. I can’t imagine the A’s or White Sox will put up as much of a fight when they get their second crack at Phil, though.
While frustrating, starts like last night are beneficial to the development of a young pitcher. I call them “character builders,” which is my cheesy way of putting a positive spin on a bad outing for a young pitcher. It’s true, though — guys learn a lot about what it takes to be a big league pitcher when they struggle. I’ll be paying attention to how things go the next time Hughes faces a team that’s seen him already, that’s for sure.