Phil Hughes and his changeup

Who needs Johan Santana?

For six innings last night, Phil Hughes had the Blue Jays off balance. For six innings, Hughes mixed his pinpoint accuracy with a deadly curve with a stellar fastball. He held the Jays to two runs on four hits while walking one and striking out four. He threw two-thirds of his pitches for strikes and showed why we were totally opposed to seeing Hughes sent to Minnesota.

While the Yankee offense has yet to click, the pitching has held up quite nicely in three games. The bullpen was stellar again last night with Billy Traber recording his first Yankee out and Brian Bruney looking like a new man on the mound. He threw strikes with confidence. The Joba-Rivera show closed out the game, and suddenly, the Yanks’ opponents are faced with the prospects of seven-inning games this season.

But the story was Phil. At the urging of a reader, let’s look at Phil’s pitch selection. Justin, a RAB regular, e-mailed me about Hughes shortly after the game ended:

Good game pitched by Hughes, but he could of been so much BETTER! He’s a two pitch pitcher right now. Yes they’re above average pitches but he’s got a very good changeup that he’s not even using (or only used twice…and both times they were effective!). Look at how effective McGowan was tonight with his changeup. He got some huge strikeouts with his change (A-Rod) and he kept the hitters off balance for the first 6 innings.

Justin believes that if Hughes deploys his changeup 10-15 times a game, he’ll be even better. Right now, I’m withholding judgement. Unlike Mike Mussina with his slow, slower, slowest approach, Hughes can rely on his fastball to get outs. It’s accurate; it has late life; and when he mixes in his curve, the fastball is even more effective.

Oh that curveball. Phil Hughes’ curveball was a thing of beauty tonight. Looking much like it did against Texas in the second game of Hughes’ career last year, the ball danced its way into the strike zone, fooling Blue Jay hitters and keeping them off balance. The curve is why, right now, I think Hughes can pick and choose his spots for a changeup that he is still refining. The curve, in fact, is something of a changeup. Hughes was sitting around 90 mph with his fastball last night and around 71 with a deadly break on the curve. Throw a 71 mph curveball and that 90 mph fastball looks pretty fast.

Today, Phil Hughes is the second-youngest player in the Majors, and at age 21, he’s only going to get better and stronger as the years go by. As Hughes matures as an athlete and a pitcher, he’ll gain more velocity on the fastball and more confidence in what could be a deadly weapon: his changeup. But for now, I am more than satisfied with his pitch selection and thrilled with Mr. Hughes’ first start of the season.

Game Three: Cy Young, here we come

Could there possibly be any three people more amped up for Phil Hughes‘s 2008 debut than Mike, Ben, and me? Well, maybe this guy (though we haven’t heard from him in nearly a month).

Tonight will be the first of what should be 20-some-odd starts by the 21-year-old. Expectations are sky-high: Keith Law picks him as a Cy Young sleeper (as apparently I did as well with the title), as has Peter Gammons. His spring was solid, not great, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts now that the games count. However, even if he pitches like he did in the spring, I wouldn’t be disappointed. We’re still early on, and as many people pointed out last night, most guys haven’t reached their peak strength yet. And if you’ll remember from last year, Hughes was unimpressive in his first start out for Scranton.

Posada is still out with the sore shoulder. According to Sam Borden via PeteAbe, he might DH tomorrow. Matsui slides into left, apparently breaking himself in for some playing time out there when Melky Cabrera serves his inevitable suspension.

The Yanks face Dustin McGowan tonight, another Law-picked Cy Young sleeper. He certainly has the stuff. Apparently, he was feeling flu-like symptoms yesterday, but will pitch today. Which makes sense — I don’t know of many hangovers that last for two days.

Your lineup:

1. Johnny Damon, DH
2. Derek Jeter, SS
3. Bobby Abreu, RF
4. Alex Rodriguez, 3B
5. Jason Giambi, 1B
6. Robinson Cano, 2B
7. Hideki Matsui, LF
8. Jose Molina, C
9. Melky Cabrera, CF

And on the mound, number thirty-four, Phil Hughes.

Game 2: Counting on Mussina

Mike Mussina is, whether we like it or not, a key cog to the Yankees’ success this season. Until the team is ready to move Joba Chamberlain out of that 8th inning role — and if he keeps doing what he did last night, that won’t be anytime soon — Mussina will be starting every fifth day. He needs to give the Yankees innings, and he needs to keep them in the game.

2007 will not be one for the ages for Mike Mussina. He hurled a career, full-season low of 152 innings while turning in a 5.15 ERA, a mark 1.40 runs above his career average. He failed to reach 100 strike outs for just the second time since 1992 and gave up 36 more hits than innings pitched.

If Mussina can keep his ERA around 4.50 this season, the Yankees will win his games. This a team that will score a lot of runs in many different ways, and if Moose can go 5-6 innings and allow 3-4 runs a start, the Yanks can find a way to win. Mussina is optimistic about his season. He knows that he needs to turn in a solid 2008 if he wants a contract somewhere in 2009. Let’s see if he’s true to his word.

The Yankees will go with the same lineup as last night. The Blue Jays have some changes.

Yankees
Damon LF
Jeter SS
Abreu RF
Rodriguez SS
Giambi 1B
Cano 2B
Posada C Matsui DH
Matsui DH Molina C
Cabrera CF

Mussina RHP

Blue Jays
Eckstein SS
Stewart LF
Rios RF
Wells CF
Thomas DH
Overbay 1B
Hill 2B
Scutaro 3B
Barajas C

Burnett RHP

Notes: A.J. Burnett is 3-2 with a 3.20 ERA in six career starts against the Yanks. In 39.1 innings, he’s given up just 27 hits while striking out 35…Please consider donating to the Big Three Ks Craniosynostosis fund drive…Last night, we had over 200 posts on the game thread. That’s a RAB record.

Update 6:30 p.m.: Jorge Posada out; Jose Molina in. Jorge reportedly is day-to-day with a stiff right shoulder. He tweaked it yesterday and could not get loose enough to play in today’s cold weather. With 160 games left, there’s no point in running Jorge out there this early if he’s not feeling up to it.

Game 1: Let’s try that again

So yesterday afternoon’s planned Opening Day didn’t go off quite as scheduled. Mother Nature decided to literally rain on the Yanks’ parade for a little while longer, and the Blue Jays and Yankees will try again tonight.

The keyword there is “try.” At around 5 p.m., it was still raining in the city, and the hourly forecast for the Bronx looks a little dicey. Forget the countdown clock; this non-stop rain is simply the Baseball Gods’ way of telling the Yankees that they should not be messing with baseball tradition with a new stadium.

For the Yankees, yesterday’s rain-out meant that the out-spoken Hank Steinbrenner will make tonight’s game. The Yanks’ Senior Vice President opted to stay in Tampa yesterday when he heard about the expected weather conditions in New York. Funny how that worked out for him.

The lineups are the same; the pitching match-ups are the same. Expect a lot of groundballs skating around on what will be a fairly damp infield. Can Chien-Ming Wang bring home the Yanks’ eleventh straight home opener victory? Will Joe Girardi win the first game managed by someone other than Joe Torre since 1995? We’ll find out, but no matter the answers, it’s time for baseball gain.

New York Yankees
Johnny Damon LF
Derek Jeter SS
Bobby Abreu RF
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Jason Giambi 1B
Robinson Cano 2B
Jorge Posada C
Hideki Matsui LF
Melky Cabrera CF

Chien-Ming Wang RHP

Toronto Blue Jays
David Eckstein SS
Shannon Stewart LF
Alex Rios RF
Vernon Wells CF
Frank Thomas DH
Lyle Overbay 1B
Aaron Hill 2B
Marco Scutaro 3B
Gregg Zaun C

Roy Halladay RHP

Notes: As we did last year and on and off through Spring Training, use the comments to discuss anything under the sun. How’s Michael Kay doing? How do the Yanks look? Just chat about the game…Please consider donating to the Big Three K’s Craniosynostosis fundraiser we’re hosting this year to benefit the Jorge Posada Foundation. We’ve received pledges totaling $3.235 per Big Three strike out.

Game 1: The birthday present that keeps on giving

Yankee Stadium has never looked better. For more lego stadiums, check out Home Run Derby.

On Saturday, I celebrated my birthday. Two days later, Major League Baseball is giving me the best present for which any obsessed Yankee fan could hope: Opening Day.

Today, Chien-Ming wang turns 28. His birthday present? An Opening Day start.

There’s really nothing like Opening Day when everything says zero, and everyone has their hopes and dreams. It’s the day when we know spring is here even if the weather tells us otherwise. It’s the day when we know summer will be on the way soon.

It’s the day when the clock starts ticking. No longer are we left debating trades that were and weren’t made. No longer are we left sitting here wondering about missed opportunities and an invasion of midges. No longer are we left scrutinizing meaningless spring training stats and wondering what kind of manager Joe Girardi will be in New York. Today is the day when everything starts all over again.

For the Yankees, it’s a new year, a new team and a new look. A lot of the names we’ve heard about made their ways to the Bronx last season. We saw 70 innings of Phil Hughes, three starts of Ian Kennedy and some mighty impressive 8th inning work by one Joba Chamberlain. Ross Ohlendorf, in a late-season call-up, showed off a heavy sinker and a tendency to throw strikes. This year, all four begin the season in the Bronx.

Of course, the old guns are back too. Jorge Posada and Mariano Rivera returned to the Bronx while Alex Rodriguez locked up a deal that makes him a Yankee for life. In fact, at some point this September, A-Rod will probably find himself a Yankee for longer than he was in Seattle or Texas.

And then we turn to the Cathedral in the Bronx. As the Yankees take the field today, they will do so for their final home opener in Yankee Stadium. It’s a bittersweet day to be sure.

For the Yanks, they have their work cut out for them today. They haven’t lost on Opening Day since 2004 when the Devil Rays beat them in Japan. At home, they’ve been perfect since April 11, 1997 when Aaron Small and the A’s outlasted Jeff Nelson and the Yankees 3-1 in 12 innings.

Today, the Yanks face Roy Halladay while Chien-Ming Wang pitchers for the Yankees. Two of the game’s most winningest pitchers over the last three season square off. Someone’s gotta give. The game starts at 1:05 p.m. on YES and ESPN.

Time, they say, begins on Opening Day. To me, life begins on Opening Day. It’s a day for promises and hope that after 162 games, there will still be more to play. Let’s get this season started.

Lineup
Damon LF
Jeter SS
Abreu RF
Rodriguez 3B
Giambi 1B
Cano 2B
Posada C
Matsui DH
Cabrera CF

Wang P

Notes: Please pledge to join the RAB Big Three K’s Craniosyntosis fund drive. We’ve raised a total of $3.17 per Big Three strike out so far…Please take a minute to read the RAB Commenting Guidelines…While Bob Sheppard is out, Derek Jeter will still be announced by the Voice of the Yankees. Jeter recorded Sheppard saying his name last year. That’s smart thinking by the captain.

Update 12:14 p.m.: ESPN is reporting that the first pitch will be pushed back to 2 p.m. due to rain in the New York area. Tomorrow is a scheduled off day, but the rain is supposed to continue on and off throughout the next few days.

Update 2:10 p.m.: The game is still delayed. We may not see baseball in New York until Wednesday.

Game Thread: Rounding third and heading for home

In fifteen minutes, the last televised Spring Training game and the final home game in Tampa begins. The Yanks will face off against the Pirates before heading down to Miami for two games against the Marlins in Dolphin Stadium. Sadly, those will probably be the two best-attended games of the season for the Marlins.

Before today’s game, the Yanks will rename Legends Field to honor George M. Steinbrenner, and Andy Pettitte will probably make his 2008 debut in game four of the season against the Devil Rays in Tampa Bay. While Brett Gardner heads to AAA after an impressive spring, Kei Igawa pitches for his spot on the Yankee roster this afternoon.

The game is on YES and MLB.tv. Gameday is available here if you want to follow along. The next game thread hits on Opening Day. I can’t wait.

Damon DH
Jeter SS
Duncan RF
Rodriguez 3B
Posada C
Matsui LF
Ensberg 1B
Betemit 2B
Cabrera CF

Pitching
Igawa
Karstens

Game Thread: Not enough regulars?

In the seemingly never-ending march toward Opening Day, the Yanks find themselves yet again facing off against the Pirates. They didn’t take many regulars with them. So this game is bound to be filled with all the excitement of a late-September call-up game against the Royals.

It’s on YES and MLB.tv, and only the promise of potentially seeing Ross Ohlendorf pitch is a bright spot. Jeff Karstens draws the start, and it’s hard to say if the Yanks brought the four regulars with them that MLB requires for Spring Training away games. Maybe they think Morgan Ensberg counts.

Cabrera CF
Cano 2B
Matsui LF
Ensberg 1B
Betemit SS
Lane RF
Ransom 3B
Woodward DH
Moeller C