The importance of tonight’s start for Phil Hughes


(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

The early returns have not been all that good for Phil Hughes this season. He labored through 4.2 IP of two-run ball against the Rays in his first start, got pounded by the Angels in his second start, then had a disaster first inning against the Twins before settling down for the next four innings in his third start. About the only positive you can take from his overall performance is his strikeout rate, though his 22.7 K% does a better job of reflecting his performance than his 10.13 K/9.

Tonight’s start against the Rangers will be both Hughes’ toughest assignment and most important start of the season to date. A scoreless first inning would be a great start, something he’s been unable to provide in two of his three starts. In the one exception, he had men on the corners with one out before escaping the jam. He escaped that mess with two strikeouts on his bread-and-butter pitch, the fastball.

“My velocity is good and hopefully I can keep it going,’’ said Hughes yesterday. “The second and third time through the lineup you need something else, but at the same time I like to work the fastball a lot and try to [use] that as long as I can.’’

The velocity has been a non-issue; he’s sat in the 91-94 range and averaged 92.41 mph with his four-seamer according to the manually classified data at Brooks Baseball. Hitters have come up empty on 27.62% of the swings they’ve taken against Phil’s fastball, which is pretty awesome. As Joe explained last week, the curveball has been a problem. Batters aren’t missing the pitch — 11.76% whiff/swing — and although the changeup has been encouraging this year, it hasn’t developed to point of being a true third pitch, nevermind a potential second pitch. Man can not live on fastball alone.

Hughes and Freddy Garcia are both on the rotation bubble with Andy Pettitte — who will throw 80-85 pitches for Double-A Trenton today — on the way. The Yankees aren’t going to use tomorrow’s off-day to skip Garcia, so apparently they want to see as much of him as possible before having to make any kind of decision about who to replace. Hughes has thrown two gems in Texas, but those games were a long time ago. Hanging in against a Rangers team that has scored a dozen runs in their last 44 offensive innings would go a long way towards helping him keep his starting job. If he doesn’t at least hold his own, then the ball will be in Freddy’s court on Saturday.

Categories : Pitching


  1. JohnC says:

    I agree with the decision not to skip Freddy. Still too early to be skipping guys starts. Its still April. Never ceases to amaze me how quickly fans and media push the panic button around here

    • Robinson Tilapia says:

      I don’t really think it’s a panic button. I think Hughes and Garcia had a small window to impress to begin with, and there’s been nothing at all encouraging to take from Garcia’s starts. Being that he’s the grizzled vet, there’s going to be a segment of us who would love for it to be a younger guy getting the couple of starts left (or turn skipped) before Andy, probably, takes that spot away.

      There’s other places of panic, clearly, when you scroll the comments here. I’m not quite sure this is truly one of them.

      • Steve says:

        Yep…. That for Freddy

      • Plank says:

        Freddy Garcia has a long track record of success. Phil Hughes has almost no track record of success (half a year, plus time in relief). Garcia is under contract for 1 year and Hughes is under team control for 2 years. Their salaries are similar and Hughes will likely make significantly more next year.

        This isn’t a ‘let the kid play so we can see if he can hack it in the majors’ situation with Hughes. He’s played, he can’t. That said, maybe he is the preferable option over Garcia, but I think the smart option for the Yankees at this point is to see more of both pitchers and go with the better option.

        I would also not take Pettitte’s return as a given. He’s 40 and missed a year. Not rehabbing missed a year, sat at home missed a year.

  2. Robinson Tilapia says:

    I’d say he was pitching for his life tonight, but Michael Pineda probably just threw him a lifeboat.

    Come game thread time, I will be in full root-for-Hughes mode.

    It’s the lack of efficiency. Too many pitches means too many mistake pitches. The ability is there. They why-its-not-happening, especially with the formerly-killer-curve, is where I just haven’t a clue anymore.

    • Typical MIT Nerd says:

      Phelps deserves a chance. Hughes has gotten plenty of chances.

      • Steve says:

        …. and then what?

      • CM says:

        If Phelps is going to go into the rotation, I’d rather see him replacing Garcia than Hughes at this point. And I think we need to prepare ourselves for Michael Pineda being the next Carl Pavano. Wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t see Pineda on the mound at all this year.

        • Randi B. says:

          Michael Pineda being compared to Carl Pavano is a bit much.

        • could not agree more with statement yankees do not do agood job on rehabting pitchersonce they are hurt

        • DrJLD says:

          Comparing Pineda to Pavano is clearly medically unwarranted at this time. The unfortunate thing is, to me, that Pineda came to NY with a shoulder he likely injured midpoint last season. Pitching the remainder of the season undoubtedly aggravated the injury.

          He is still very young and still has the full recuperative powers of a youngster. The liklihood is that he will recover and will be a fine pitcher for the Yankees down the road.

          The investment in him may not pay dividends the season, or they may. I hope they give him all the time he needs to heal and then rehabilitate. After all, 2012 is NOT the last season in the Yankees’ proud history. The look for dividends too early could lead to a more permanent injury or to ruining hs arm.

      • jjyank says:

        Phelps will get a chance. But outside of a really SSS in a few relief outings, we don’t know that Phelps would be any better than Hughes.

        Hughes was terrible last year because of a loss of velocity and his stuff in general. This year his velocity and fastball are very good. I say we give him more a few more starts before we start demanding the rookie. If this rookie was, say, Matt Moore, toiling away in the bullpen, I get that argument. But Phelps is not a blue chip prospect. He certainly has impressed so far, and I’m rooting for him to succeed, but it’s a little early to throw him to the wolves in Texas.

        Phelps will get his chance. But I think the Yanks owe it to themselves to see if Hughes can right the ship now that he has his fastball back.

  3. In his own words, he doesn’t trust his off-speed stuff. That’s no good.

    • Typical MIT Nerd says:

      And why I think he just doesn’t get it. The Yankees pegged him wrong. He seemed cerebral where Joba had stuff and Kennedy had command. The problem is Hughes just doesn’t seem to have true pitching instincts. Putting guys away is more about knowing what to throw and when. More fastball seems like more cowbell.

  4. Typical MIT Nerd says:

    Is hoping for something different here akin tot he old line about insanity? The fastball was useful distraction from the core problem: Hughes has never been a very good pitcher. At this point, even hoping for league average seems like a stretch.

    • JohnC says:

      You don’t win 18 games in a season by not being a good pitcher. And don’t give me the excuse that they scored laot of runs for him. not always the case. You still have to shut the other team down

      • Typical MIT Nerd says:

        Seriously, you’re using wins to justify the quality of pitcher?

        • JohnC says:

          Seriously, you’re dismissing that? Maybe we should use losses instead. LOL!!!!!

          • Typical MIT Nerd says:

            There you go. W’s and L’s are all that matters to JohnC. At lest we won’t have to expect you to add anything to the discussion here. We left the 1980′s over 20 years ago.

            • Darren says:

              “Wins and losses are all that matter.”


              • Typical MIT Nerd says:

                Yeah, Felix Hernandez, he of the 27-26 record over the last two years, just isn’t very good.

                Please find it in yourself to get some minimal amount of 21st century baseball knowledge. You’ll look less foolish.

                • Darren says:

                  I hope you’re just having fun with your comment and your handle, and you’re not really the giant douchecock you appear to be.

          • LK says:

            I’m not sure why I’m bothering with this, but here goes:

            OK, let’s use losses. Phil Hughes lost 8 games in 2010. That year, the Yankees scored 12 runs for him 3 times, 11 runs for him twice, 10 runs for him once, 9 runs for him 3 times, 8 runs for him 4 times, 7 runs once, 6 runs twice, and 5 runs twice. The didn’t get shut out in a single game that he pitched. They scored less than 3 runs for him in only 3 games THE ENTIRE YEAR. And he still lost 8 games. With an average of 6.75 runs of support per game. I’m not saying that Phil Hughes was a garbage pitcher in 2010, because he wasn’t. But the idea that he was some budding ace that year is just nonsense.

            • Reggie C. says:

              Love this breakdown! Take that all you Hughes enthusiasts!

            • Bo Knows says:

              How about this

              Hughes in 2010 limited opponents to 3 or fewer runs in 20 of his starts, 2 runs or less in 14 of his starts.

              • LK says:

                Sure, he was pretty good that year. I’m sure we’d all do backflips if he’s able to replicate 2010 this year. He just wasn’t as good as his 18 wins would suggest.

        • .zip file says:

          Wins are a very flawed stat as we all know. But pitchers who consistently get a lot of wins are usually pretty good pitchers. Hughes has not consistently gotten a lot of wins nor has he been consistent in a lot of other ways.

          And, pitchers who get a lot of W’s usually get a lot of $, too.

          • Typical MIT Nerd says:

            “Hughes has not consistently gotten a lot of wins nor has he been consistent in a lot of other ways.”


    • MannyGeee says:

      the question of whether its insanity or not to expect different results from Hughes… he gives you different results from inning to inning. He in himself, is insanity!

  5. Bonnie Parker says:

    Hughes is back in his comfort zone in Texas but I just don’t see him doing well against this lineup. The Minnesota lefties got to him and this lineup is solid top to bottom. This is probably Hughes and Freddy’s last stand. Whomever does better will stay and the loser will be replaced by Andy.

    • JohnC says:

      Not yet. Andy will need about 3 more starts before he is ready

      • Cuso says:

        he’s at 65 pitches already. Might only be 2 starts away.

        • Mike Axisa says:

          They said they want him to throw 100 pitches twice in the minors before calling him up, so at least three more starts. That makes sense, they need to see how his body reacts the second time around. They don’t want his arm to fall off in the big leagues, they’d rather let it happen in the minors.

    • mike says:

      the deck is stacked against Freddy either way – both because of the investment the Yanks have in Hughes, and because of the personal stake upper management has in having him succeed.

      he is the anti-Joba….he comes into camp fat, limited and sporadic success at the big league level, yet is given every chance to start even when he is absolutely horrible.

      I want Hughes to succeed- maybe because the Tom Seaver hype and his first few starts still get to me – but just like the Midges….that is a galaxy far, far away from where they currently are

  6. isotopesgm says:

    It sounds like he is best suited for a role in the bullpen. If only Pineda were healthy! Pineda and Andy could take hughes’ and garcia’s rotation spots. cut garcia, phil goes to the ‘pen. Please,Please,please let the MRI be ok.

  7. STONE COLD Austin Romine says:

    Best baseball meme of the month.

    “Man can not live on fastball alone”

    • Midland TX says:

      Maybe amend that to “Pitcher-Man can’t.” Nick Swisher sure could. Jack Cust. You know what I’m saying.

    • TomH says:

      Best baseball principle of the month. There is no such thing as a “meme.” It’s a
      confection of failed-poet geneticists.

  8. MMMMyyKuroda says:

    Gee, if only we had more time to evalute Freddy Garcia. I mean, the guy is only 35 years old, he could really turn into something. /end sarcasm

    I’ve gotta say, I’m getting pretty tired of the way the Yankees front office seem to insist on treating the Mitre’s, Moseley’s, Gaudin’s, and Garcia’s of the world as something more special than the deflowered, guarenteed dishwater specialists that they truly are.

    Why not give Adams, Phelps, and Mitchell a crack at the rotation? I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t be any WORSE than Freddy, plus I prefer a 25 year old with upside making league minimum to a mid-30′s has been.

    We were very fortunate with Freddy last season. He was meant to be a temporary fix, and he succeeded in that role, but now it’s time to move on.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      Trust me, they could be a lot worse.

      • .zip file says:

        You mean they could turn into Chase Wright?

        • CM says:

          Ah, Chase Wright, the most appropriately named pitcher since Bob Walk. As in, “He throws the ball, and watches fans ‘chase wright’ after it.”

      • Typical MIT Nerd says:

        For someone who is normally so optimistic, why be pessimistic? They could likely be as good if not better. Don’t you see the value of fresh arms with unique looks? Phelps’ velo and command and arsenal screams back of the rotation.

        • Typical MIT Nerd says:

          And for a prospect maven, how do you explain the difference in hype between guys like Joba and Hughes versus someone like Nova? It’s clear that Nova is no great shakes, but he’s clearly a better pitcher than Hughes and he’s been given more of chance than Joba.

          • .zip file says:

            Why is it clear to you that Nova is no great shakes? I’m not being snarky, but seriously, just asking. When I look at his record, both majors and minors, all I’ve seen him do is consistently improve. He throws 4 pitches, he can dial it up to 96 on occaision when he needs it, he can get groundballs, and he seems to be improving in the strikeout department. I think he will be very successful long term as long as he is healthy, especially on a team like the Yankees.

        • Mike Axisa says:

          I’m not pessimistic, I just don’t see how they can be expected to come out of the gate and perform well right away. Very few young pitchers do. I think they’ll all be good pitchers in time, I would just rather see them be Plan B instead of Plan A at this point of their careers.

          • Typical MIT Nerd says:

            Wouldn’t turning to Phelps now be a Plan B?

            • Mike Axisa says:

              Yeah, but has Plan A run its course yet? Freddy and Hughes have made three starts each.

              • Typical MIT Nerd says:

                Do we really need it to run its course? Weird that you’re more optimistic about guys with little upside.

                You tell me: How much longer does Hughes gets? Suppose he’s just middling tonight (5 ERs in 6 innings) and that Garcia matches him. How much more of that evidence do we need?

                • Mike Axisa says:

                  I give them until Pettitte is ready. If neither guy is able to right the ship by then, then Phelps becomes an option.

                  • DM says:

                    I find it interesting how emphatic the endorsements have been of Hughes, Garcia and Phelps in their current roles (from Girardi and Cashman, I mean). Strange.

                  • .zip file says:

                    But if they wait that long, don’t they run the risk of needing to “stretch out” Phelps in the minors to start again? Sort of like the problem they had with Noesi last year?

                • Plank says:

                  You think Hughes has lower upside than Phelps? Hughes is a year older than Phelps.

    • Cuso says:

      I’m all for giving those guys chances – just not at the same time. Kuroda and Garcia will both be out next year (and maybe Hughes at this point too).

      It would seem Phelps would get first crack this year and then maybe Mitchell next year (I still don’t believe ManBan or Betances will be ready next year).

    • pat says:

      seem to insist on treating the Mitre’s, Moseley’s, Gaudin’s, and Garcia’s of the world as something more special

      You’re right. They should totally bring up all their young starters to pitch the sporadic garbage innings that all those guys threw. Get a f*cking grip. You can’t have these kids rotting on the bench because you don’t want Sergio Mitre throwing 4 innings in a blowout every other week.

      • Typical MIT Nerd says:

        What the hell are you talking about? You’d rather have Sidney Ponson and Sergio Mitre getting starts rather than someone like Phelps or Nova?

      • CM says:

        In fairness, most of those games didn’t become blowouts until Mitre entered the game.

      • MMMMyyKuroda says:

        Yikes, take it easy.

        I was referring specifically to the number of starts that these guys were making. I’m not advocating for Mitchell/Phelps/Warren/Adams etc to come up and throw garbage time innings (although that’s exactly what Phelps has been more or less relegated to), I’m saying that the Yankees need to stop running out losers like Moseley and Mitre when we already have capable young (cheap) talent sitting in AAA.

        I’m not saying that Phelps and Co. will ever be aces, but the fact is that these guys might be SOMEBODY’s #4 starter, whereas Moseley, Garcia, Mitre (et al) are guarenteed to be wastes of money, undermining to the long term plan (developing young players), and, more tellingly, wasted opportunities in the short term (winning games right now).

        Maybe some of these young players don’t work out. But what if one does? Let me be more direct here; Ivan Nova projected as an eventual bullpen guy long term. Where would we be without Ivan Nova today? The Phelps/Warren etc group project as backend starters, so we’re already starting from a higher floor than we did with Nova.

        I would strongly support Phelps moving into Garcia’s spot, and moving the next best Adams/Warren/Mitchell pitcher into Phelp’s long relief role. When (if) Pettitte comes back, and when (if) he’s effective, you can simply slide Phelps back into long relief, and the recently promoted AAA pitcher back to AAA.

        • Plank says:

          Garcia certainly wasn’t a waste of money and didn’t harm anyone’s long term plans last year. He’s making similar money and is an innings eater. Only time will tell if he can be a reliable innings eater again.

    • Slu says:

      They tried this when the opened the season with IPK, Hughes and Joba in the rotation and it backfired. Damned if you do….

    • TLVP says:

      Garcia averaged 2.9 WAR between 1999 and 2006. In 2010 and 2011 he averaged 2.7 WAR. Don’t put him in the same camp as Mitre (career WAR of -1.7), Gaudin (career WAR of 0.6) and Moseley (career WAR 1.5).

      By the way, Phil Hughes is a disappointment but has a career WAR of 4.6.

      Ponson 9.9

  9. Cuso says:

    Do you think there’s any chance he doesn’t get rocked? I know his “good: history. This just has the making of uglitude.

    Of course, I thought last night would be a 12-11 game. So what do I know?

    • Kevin Winters says:

      There is a chance he doesn’t get rocked. I’m not a Hughes guy but since his first start of the yr I thought ok sooner or later he’s going to throw a gem.

  10. Typical MIT Nerd says:

    For some reason, Hughes saying more fastball has me thinking the absurdity of more cowbell:

  11. Bartolo's Colon says:

    I fully expect Hughes to get bombed tonight, but I will hope for the best. Even something like 4 runs in 5 innings would be better than most expect. After last night, you would think the offense is going to break out a bit.

  12. jjyank says:

    I wonder if Hughes dropping his original curve in favor of a knuckle curve, then reverting back to his old curve has in anyway affected his ability to throw it. It’s not like he’s been consistently working on a curveball all these years, he’s flip-flopped a bit. Maybe he is just having trouble honing it back to where it was during his prospect days, I dunno. I think it’s worth thinking about though.

  13. Moose says:

    Loved Hughes forever but I’m starting to think he can’t hang with this team….why do we always think bounce backs are going I happen when they seldom occur? Hughes has had a 3 or so yr leash and we expect arod rebounding every year as well…sox fans and writers do the same w a guy like youk for example who has been predicted for bounce back in every yr of his decline

  14. CJ says:

    Would you rather have Phil Hughes or clay bucholz at this point? Eerily similar trajectories.

    • Mike Axisa says:

      Buchholz is a better bet to perform, but they still owe him $30M.

      • GardnergoesYardner says:

        Exactly why these extensions for young pitchers are such a risk. For every Evan Longoria bargain, there is always a chance that the player will tank. Imagine if we were on the hook for 20 million or more for Hughes if we had locked him up after 2010. It’s almost not worth the risk.

  15. cr1 says:

    Maybe it is even harder to admit to ourselves, after all our oohing and ahing, that we were mistaken than it is to accept that Hughes may not be very good…

  16. DJ4K&Monterowasdinero says:

    I am hoping the offense will be a juggernaut tonight. Hard to believe Phil can get through that lineup 3x without being knocked out. Perhaps if we get a decent lead, Phil can be less fine with his pitches and get in better counts and have more success. One can hope. Haircut Phil?

  17. LiterallyFigurative says:

    Without the secondary pitches, Hughes has no chance to be an average starter.

    That has been my biggest dissapointment with Hughes. The curve used to be a weapon, now it’s an afterthought. The changeup was a progressing pitch, now it seems like he won’t or can’t use it to get an easy out.

    The 0-2 to 3-2 pattern with 4 foul balls per at-bat drives me crazy.

    People like to downgrade Nova on this site, but guess what he doesn’t do? He doesn’t throw alot of pitches per AB, and he doesn’t walk people. He may give up hits, but he doesn’t compound it by putting free runners on base. Plus he is progressing and adding to his arsenal (Something it seems a few RAB posters deem impossible).

    • .zip file says:

      “People like to downgrade Nova on this site, but guess what he doesn’t do? He doesn’t throw alot of pitches per AB, and he doesn’t walk people. He may give up hits, but he doesn’t compound it by putting free runners on base. Plus he is progressing and adding to his arsenal (Something it seems a few RAB posters deem impossible).”


    • Plank says:

      Is this site really full of people “Downgrading” Nova? I haven’t noticed this phenomenon.

  18. Midland TX says:

    I think I’d like it if people tempered their expectations about Pettitte riding in and saving the day. Even in his prime he was constantly pitching into and out of trouble, and would have occasional days without his good stuff. I don’t think it’s realistic to just plug him in as a #5 starter during his age 38 season, after a year away from the game, and expect him to be much more than marginally better than Hughes or Garcia. Nostalgia and grit notwithstanding.

    Of course there was Colon last year and Jeter this year, so who knows. Maybe Pettitte has caught lightning in a bottle.

    • TomH says:

      Man, is this ever a useful reminder. Old-timer Andy rides to the rescue of a team with far too many old-timers as it is. I hope he pulls it off, but I’m not counting on it.

      If the Yankees are going to rely on him and on one of Hughes/Garcia, they had better hope that ARod and Cano begin banging the ball consistently.

    • Plank says:

      I hate to break it to you, but Pettitte is in his age 40 season.

  19. rogue says:

    I have more faith in Freddy than in Hughes.

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