As awful as he’s been this season — 7.88 ERA and 6.39 FIP — Phil Hughes has actually been pretty lucky. He’s lucky in the sense that Freddy Garcia has performed even worse — 12.51 ERA and 5.51 FIP — and has drawn most of the negative attention. The security blanket is gone now, however. Garcia is out of the rotation and the focus turns to Hughes, the current weak link in the rotation.
The Yankees have given Phil every opportunity to succeed as a starting pitcher in his career, but outside of late-2007 and early-2010, their patience has not been rewarded. Dating back to mid-May of 2010 — an admittedly arbitrary endpoint — Hughes has pitched to a 5.45 ERA (~4.85 FIP) in 228 innings across 41 starts. The nearly 1,000 batters he faced (997 to be exact) during that time have tagged him for a .275/.334/.467 batting line. That’s almost exactly what Howie Kendrick hit last season. So yeah, it hasn’t been pretty.
Because of his recent awfulness and that long stretch of below average performance, tonight’s start against the Orioles just might be the Hughes’ last chance to show the team he can be effective in the rotation. Not only is Andy Pettitte’s return drawing closer, but David Phelps will begin his starting pitcher audition later this week. As I said this morning, the Yankees can use Monday’s scheduled day off to rearrange the rotation and give his rotation spot to Pettitte if they so chose. The schedule isn’t going to handcuff them.
Phil’s days as a starting pitcher for the Yankees are numbered. It seems inevitable that the team will remove him from the rotation as some point relatively soon, whether it be after tonight’s start, next week, or next month. The Yankees have to stop kidding themselves if they want to improve their starting staff. There are better options on the way, and unless he comes out tonight and shows 2-3 pitches with command, there’s little Hughes can do to save his rotation spot.