Hughes goes to the slider against Blue Jays

Yanks, Soriano rebound to top Blue Jays
Yankees have not yet placed A-Rod on trade waivers
(Jeff Zelevansky/Getty)

The Yankees won last night’s game over the Blue Jays thanks primarily to their pitching staff, as David Robertson and Rafael Soriano combined for two dominant innings at the end of the game even though both were pitching for the third consecutive day. Phil Hughes stepped up and handled the first seven innings, allowing just one run on four hits. It was his thirth straight start of at least seven innings and no more than two earned runs, continuing a stretch of really strong pitching that started back in mid-May (3.44 ERA and 4.46 FIP in 128.1 innings).

That stretch started when Hughes decided to scrap his cutter, a pitch that helped him earlier in his career but had essentially transformed into a batting practice fastball. He started varying the break on his curveball soon thereafter to give hitters a look at two different breaking pitches, and in his two starts prior to last night, he really started emphasized his changeup. Last night against the Blue Jays, Hughes broke out another pitch, this one a little slider.

“I was working on a little cutter/slider hybrid deal in the bullpen and I figured this would be a good team to use it against because they have a lot of right-handed bats in that lineup,” said Hughes after last night’s game. “I was just kind of messing around with it during catch, threw a few at the end of a bullpen one time and it was decent, so I just kind of started to mix it a little more in. In our scouting report meetings before today’s game, [pitching coach Larry Rothschild] said, ‘Do you feel comfortable going to it if you need to? Not a whole lot obviously, but just something?’ I said, yeah. The first one was a 3-2 to (Yorvit Torrealba) that I threw. After that, (Russell Martin) and I found a few more spots to use it.”

According to the PitchFX data at Brooks Baseball, Hughes threw this cutter/slider hybrid thing about ten times against Toronto. Six of the ten went for strikes, including a trio of swings and misses. It has slider velocity in the low-80s, with more break than a cutter but less than a slider. I’ve heard of these being called “loaded cutters,” which are thrown with the fingers more off to the side of the ball and with less velocity by design. It’s a baby slider more than a cutter, really. Regular old cutters are thrown just like a fastball with a slightly different grip and finger pressure, but I digress.

Hughes threw all ten of his cutter/sliders to right-handed batters as you’d expect, and the pitch helped him hold the Blue Jays’ righties to four hits and two walks in 22 plate appearances. Same-side hitters went into last night’s game with a .327/.359/.622 batting line (.415 wOBA) against Phil, so he was doing something right against Toronto. The fact that half their regulars are injured and that this is a one-start sample certainly work in his favor, so we’re stuck in wait-and-see mode as far as whether this new pitch can actually help against righties.

Although he has been maddeningly homer-prone this season, Hughes has remained effective because he does a good job of limiting the damage to solo shots. He’s struggled against left-handed hitters in the past but for whatever reason that platoon split has been reversed this summer, so hopefully this new cutter/slider thing will help even it out. Phil seemed to make it clear after last night’s outing that it will remain his third or fourth offering, not something he’ll rely on heavily for the time being. He did throw a slider in high school, so this isn’t an entirely new experience, and working the pitch into game situations will be the next challenge.

Yanks, Soriano rebound to top Blue Jays
Yankees have not yet placed A-Rod on trade waivers
  • blake

    I liked it….the first one he threw for the strike out really caught me off guard….I was like…wait was that an 82 mph slider? Anyway….the velo difference should help get guys off his fastball…..

    If he can just use that pitch every now and then and sharpen up thr CB and CU a bit more then Hughes will have a full workable assortment of pitches….

  • UpstateYanks

    I really think Hughes could be a beast if he had a great out pitch. He gets batters to 0-2 and they work him back into hitter’s counts. Hopefully this pitch turns into something more than just a different look.

  • LarryM.,Fl.

    A frustrated as we as fans get with the trio of Hughes, Nova and Phelps at times but moreso the first two guys. They will not grow as starters unless they pitch. This has been my gripe with the Yanks. Not allowing the trials and tribulations of young pitchers to pitch and grow. Recently the last three years the organization has allowed Nova and Hughes develop. We have always had an excellent offense that permitted if allowed young guys to develop. It seems Hughes has allowed conversation and experiment to occur and progression is happening.

    Now if Nova could throw below the belt and make the extra base hits come down a bit maybe just maybe. The Yanks could have two guys in the rotation for a long time coupled with CC. 3 pieces of the rotation could be in placed.

    Wow some right handed lineup last nihgt. Hurry back Teix. and Arod.

    A win is a win.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Well said.

    • Deep Thoughts

      Well said indeed.

  • Sweet Dick Willie

    Let’s say Hughes’ 2013 is similar to his 2012. What would be a reasonable offer for 2014?

    He obviously won’t get a Hamels type contract, but just as obviously he would be a valuable piece to the Yankees rotation; not an ace, but a very serviceable 3, and young enough that becoming a 2 isn’t completely out of the question.

    He’ll be 28 in 2014, so I’d be comfortable with a 4 year deal. Would 4/$40 mil get it done? Maybe have to go a little higher on the $$$, but I’d hate to go more than 4 years.

    • Mike Axisa

      I was talking to Moshe about that a few weeks ago and he mentioned 3/24. If he repeats this season and hits the open market, 4/40 seasons very possible since he’ll only be 27. Kyle Lohse got 4/48 at a similar point of his career for less production.

      • blake

        If he finishes 2012 strong and backs it up with a good 2013 and could see him getting more than 4/40 given his age and extensive AL east experience…..some team (Dodgers etc) might think you’d get a jump in performance from him in a ballpark more suited to his strengths…..

      • Sweet Dick Willie

        I would jump all over a 3/24, but I think it will take more than that (provided his 2013 is similar to his 2012).

        He’s making $3.2 mil this year, so he’ll probably get in the neighborhood of $5 mil next year.

        I think most (reasonable) Yankees fans would be elated w/ 3/24; I just think it will take more than that, and hopefully not substantially more.

        The Yankees have to come up with their maximum number, and if some team offers more, well, adios Phil.

        • Mike Axisa

          Actually, I should clarify. We were talking about 3/24 as an extension after this season, not a deal when he hit free agency.

          • blake

            3/24 would be a great thing to offer him assuming he finishes the year good and healthy. For Hughes that gives him some financial security and he’d still only be 29 years old or so when he became a FA again…..

            Hughes could however choose to gamble on himself and decline because I think he’d potentially get much more than that with a strong 2013

          • radnom

            Funny how you want to lock him up multiple years when only 128.1 innings ago you wanted him permanently out of the rotation.

            • Mike Axisa

              I don’t want him locked up, we were just talking about what it would take.

              • CountryClub

                Really? You wouldn’t extend him if it was up to you?

                • Mike Axisa

                  Not until he gets that homer rate down. The number of guys who have long-term success giving up one homer every five innings is basically zero.

                  • Jim Is Bored

                    But the number of guys with ratios like he does who maintain ridiculous HR rates is also nearly zero.

                    So what’s gonna give first?

                  • CountryClub

                    Fair enough. Seems like a good gamble to take, though. Even if he duplicated this season for the next 3 yrs, he’d be cheap at 8 mil per yr.

                • DM

                  I’m not a Hughes fan — but I’d try to tease him with a 2 yr extension. The future of the rotation is a bit sketchy, and with 2014 looming, getting even a mediocre starter penciled in for that season might be wise. CC won’t be a better pitcher in 2014; you can’t count on Pettitte/Kuroda returning and pitching well for team-friendly contracts thru 2014; Phelps might stick, and Nova might be better by then — but Pineda and Banuelos may not help at all.

                  Something has to give for 2014 to work — so I don’t think you can wait for FA showdowns.

          • Robinson Tilapia

            Right. Another season like this and he’ll be looking at more.

            I’d lean towards extending him, but I said that realizing the risk.

        • CountryClub

          That’s why they should offer him 3/24 or 4/28 after this season. I’ve said this before, but I really think he’s going to be a solid #3 starting next yr. He’s learned a lot this season and you can see the finished product starting to form. I hope they lock him up.

          • jjyank

            I’d be thrilled with those scenarios, personally.

  • thenamestsam

    It looked okay as a change of pace pitch last night but I hope he doesn’t fall too in love with it the way he did with the cutter at times. The one he threw to Torrealba for the K was nice, but there were at least a couple others that I thought were hangers that he got away with because they weren’t looking for it (see for example his last pitch of the night which was up in the zone and had no vertical break, but got him a K anyway on a weak hack).

    That’s very similar to what I saw when he first started using the cutter: an inconsistent pitch where he was getting away with the bad ones because hitters were looking for something else. Once it got into the scouting reports he started getting punished when he threw a bad one.

    • The Raging Platypus

      I don’t think he will. He even said that he didn’t think it was that great of a pitch – certainly not refined in the least, given how he was just screwing around with it for a few bullpen sessions – but it certainly looked like the potential was there for it to become a solid pitch. I think it’ll be fine if he mixes that in with his change-up 10-15 times a game.

  • Alkaline

    Let’s hope this could become something. It’s so frustrating watching this kid at times. You see the potential. He shows flashes of brilliance. But, those HRs.

    • Sweet Dick Willie

      It’s called growing pains. Very few pitchers come out of the chute like Doc Gooden.

      • Alkaline

        Yup. It’s certainly a good thing to see him trying new pitches/ mixing things up. Him, IPK, and Joba were the first prospects I started following in my young life. I’ve got to see him pitch in the minors a few times half a decade ago. I would love to see him make the necessary changes to become a solid pitcher.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        He still has a looooooong career ahead of him. It’s too bad he hit some obstacles along the way and that we now have to have this conversation a season before he no longer is cost controlled. That’s what makes the Hughes issue harder.

        • Alkaline

          Yeah. Catch 22 now. The better he does, the more he’ll cost.

  • hmelawyer

    I really like the fact that he is trying to work in new pitches and vary his offerings. I think it is a sign that he starting to become a pitcher and not just a thrower.
    His velocity has been down the last few starts from earlier in the year (94 to 92), which is not the end of the world if he keeps hitters off balance. I only wonder if he is starting to tire out after injuries kept him to a low workload last year. He really only has one year under his belt of true starter innings. I am a big fan and hope he can keep it up.

  • Aera

    Actually this cutter-slider hybrid isn’t new to Hughes. He used this pitch in Spring Training in 2011 coincidentally against the Toronto Blue Jays. Looking at this pitch before and now, it is evident that the pitch he threw last night had a lot more bite even though the break wasn’t as apparent as the one he threw in 2011. It looks a lot better to be honest.

  • Samwise Eddard

    Phil was brilliant. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be our #4 in the playoffs. And that’s a good role for him. In 2010 he was the #2 due to Andy being pushed back, and he’s not a #2. Game 4 is often the swing game, and in a 5 game series it can be the clincher or the dagger so Phil will need to continue this good run he’s had.