Hughes’ biggest start of the year

Yanks' 2011 slate wraps in September
Yankees recall Royce Ring, designate Chad Huffman for assignment
(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Phil Hughes‘ first full season as a big league starter has certainly had it’s share of ups-and-down. He came out of the gate and was arguably the best pitcher in the league through his first six starts thanks to a 1.38 ERA, 2.51 FIP, and .214 wOBA against. The next 11 starts didn’t go so well (5.51 ERA, 4.63 FIP, .355 wOBA against), but the six after that did (3.63 ERA, 4.18 FIP, .285 wOBA against). The overall body of work (4.26 ERA, 4.21 FIP, .311 wOBA against) is pretty good for a kid that started the season as a 23-year-old in the AL East, but tonight the Yankees need better than pretty good. They need Hughes to be at his absolute best.

The last two games have been quite possibly the most stressful, exciting, depressing, and emotional games we’ve seen not just this year, but over the last two or three years as well. Add in the fact that the Yanks had lost six of seven games coming into this series against the Rays, and well, everyone’s patience was starting to wear a little thin. The disappointment felt during Monday’s lost was wiped away by the pure joy of last night’s thrilling (and for a while, painful) victory. A win tonight not only keeps the Yanks out of second place in the division, but it also allows them to feel pretty good about themselves going into tomorrow’s off day and the weekend series in Baltimore. Considering how awful things have been going, that’s a pretty significant moral victory.

Hughes, of course, had his last start skipped in an effort to control his ever-increasing workload, though he did make a one inning relief appearance in Texas as sort of a tune-up. His 156.1 IP this year are 44.2 more than he threw last season, 56.2 more than 2008, 40.1 more than 2007, and 10.1 more than he threw in 2006, his previous career high. Not only are we talking about uncharted territory in terms of overall workload, but it’s been four seasons since Hughes was even close to this many innings, so it’s clear to see why the Yanks are being careful.

Unfortunately, one of the side effects of being skipped is unpredictability, which is something young starters come with anyway. For all intents and purposes, the Yanks have had Hughes skip a start twice already this season, and both times he struggled immediately afterward. His June 24th start was easy to pass on because it conveniently fell on an off-day, and he then went 11 days between starts due to the All Star Break. Perhaps not coincidentally, Hughes struggled following each skip (six earned runs allowed each time), but it’s not like he was setting the world on fire at that point of the season anyway. Correlation does not equal causation, but we can’t completely ignore the possibility that the skips and the struggles are related.

Regardless of innings, starts being skipped, all that stuff, Phil Hughes has to be in top form this evening. The bullpen continues to be worn down after back-to-back extra inning affairs and a five game stretch in which the starters threw just 28.1 of 48.1 total innings. Kerry Wood is bound to unavailable after working in four of the last five days, and the same should be true for Boone Logan, the only lefty in Joe Girardi‘s bullpen. David Robertson warmed up four freaking times before finally getting in yesterday’s game, and even Mariano Rivera‘s recent workload has gotten up there. The last thing Hughes can rely on tonight is having a fresh bullpen to bail him out.

There’s a lot of pressure on the kid tonight to deliver not just bulk innings, but quality innings. Efficiency most certainly has not been his strong suit over his last 15-20 starts or so, but tonight would be a fantastic time for him to buck that trend. Hughes ascent to a top-of-the-rotation starter is something that will take years to happen, but that’s the kind of effort they need on this day. They need length and more than just a chance to win the game. It’s arguably the biggest start of Hughes’ young career, so let’s all hope he’s up to the task.

Yanks' 2011 slate wraps in September
Yankees recall Royce Ring, designate Chad Huffman for assignment
  • Fair Weather Freddy

    Big start for Hughes, and maybe, just maybe the Yanks will learn from the last 2 games against Shields not to be suckers for his slew of change ups and attack him different this time.

  • Zanath

    I’m going to throw some good karma out there and say Hughes will be on top of his game tonight. Hope I’m right!

  • Andy In Sunny Daytona

    Change-ups, change-ups, change-ups. Throw them Phil. Throw them often.

    • Zanath

      Or the curve. More than anything, he needs to learn to rely on other pitches. His fastball is good, no doubt, but he can’t just keep throwing it and hope for the best. If he does, we’ll continue to see the long counts he falls into.

      • JerZGuy

        He used to have a killer 12 to 6 deuce. What happened to it? Was it Posadaized? Fastball, fastball, fastaball.

        • Zanath

          He still has it, he just doesn’t use it enough. It seems like if it gets hit a bit, he gives up on it for that game. This is natural for a starter his age, but he’ll need to rely on it more if he is going to be a front end starter. And I believe he will be in time.

    • goterpsgo

      Go Phil go!!!

    • Fair Weather Freddy

      and sit on Shields’s changeups

  • YankeesJunkieinMadrid

    Another difference between the las two skipped starts from Hughes is that he pitched an inning at least between the layover. It may not be a lot, but it put Hughes in game situation so break may not seem as long. IMO, I think this what they need to do with pitchers who get a skipped start to hold down innings is go in one of the games and get in 1-2 innings of work just to keep the game mentality. Phil Hughes has been pretty ordinary since his hot start, but it is time to step up his game for the last six-seven weeks of the season.

  • Yank the Frank

    The offense is going to need to step it up tonight to help out Phil and the bullpen. Big Game James is going down.

  • Al

    Here’s hoping our line-up includes Posada catching. I cant believe that
    Joe puts Kearns, CC, Cervelli in the same lineup regardless of who needs a day of rest.

    • steve (different one)

      It’s not like he has a ton of options in the OF. Swisher and Gardner are unable to play. Posada cannot catch everyday. There isn’t a ton of discretion here.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

        Pretty much.

        People need to bitch and moan less about the rest days and having two or three suboptimal bats in the lineup at once and accept the fact that we

        A.) have an old team that will require giving starters rest
        B.) young baseball players also accumulate bumps and bruises through a 162-game grind and need rest as well
        C.) our star-studded mega-contract everyday lineup makes it hard to attract quality bench pieces who are scared off by the limited dollars and playing time available

        It’s a fact of life: We’re going to have a few bad bats at the bottom of the lineup a few games every week.

        Just like every other team in baseball, mind you.

        • Guest

          Totally agreed on everything here.

          That said, for the fun of it, it would be nice to see the full “A” lineup, every once and a while. Due to injuries, (necessary) rest, etc. I don’t believe we’ve seen the “A” lineup in quite sometime.

          Given the cortisone shots for Swish and Gardy, plus the off-day tomorrow, plus the fact that Camden yards doesn’t have turf, I think there’s a fair shot at it happening once this weekend.

          • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

            Oh, sure. There’s nothing wrong with saying “Man, I’d love to see the ‘A’ lineup again.”

            What’s wrong is saying “Girardi is a moron for not putting the ‘A’ lineup together, it’s not that hard.”

        • Ross in Jersey

          This is a blatant lie and out and out Yankee homerism.

          We all know that Ryan Kalish, Bill Hall, and Jason Varitek is the best 7/8/9 in baseball.

    • Not Tank the Frank

      Sado is batting 7th followed by Kearns and Curtis. Not sure why Golson doesn’t get the start after last night. Joe probably wants as many lefties flailing away at Shields’ changeup as possible.

      • Not Tank the Frank

        Very minor nitpick btw. No real upgrade or downgrade from Golston to Curtis.

  • Ross in Jersey

    If it was Hughes pitching last night and not Nova, can you imagine all the calls for him to trust his secondary stuff? Nova threw 9 change-ups last night according to gameday and didn’t seem to trust it as much as he should. This is not a problem unique to Hughes. He’s dealing with an innings limit and struggling with command on all his pitches.

  • larryf

    I never thought I’d want Thames in the OF over Kearns but with Swish and Gardy not available….thinking about it. How about a start for Golson out there? He can catch up to that changeup!

  • Gmat


  • CBean

    Royce Ring! We haz him!

    (via LoHud)

  • Mike HC

    Agreed completely. On the road, as close to playoff type pressure as the Yanks are going to get this regular season, and against a possible playoff match-up. This start will have a big impact on the confidence the team and fans have in Hughes.

  • JerZGuy

    How about we rest Kearns Joe, he doesn’t look tired, he looks dead!

  • http://riveraveblues bill

    I think tonites al about pitch count,its time for phil to step up

    • tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Are you posting from a cell phone?