Hughes da man!

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Nerves struck Hughes in the first (understandable, heck I was nervous for the kid just watching on TV 3,000 miles away) and fatigue struck in the 5th (because of those ridiculous pitch counts from last year), but in between, Hughes was awesome. I thought he absolutely proved himself as ready for The Show.

He got squeezed on some pitches, but that’s not an excuse. He’s a rookie and he needs to establish himself before he starts getting those borderline calls, just like every other pitcher in the history of baseball. His curveball was good, filthy at times, and it’s got a chance to be absolutely devastating once he acclimates himself. His changeup was what I said it was – a quality pitch. He got a nice amount of swing-and-misses on it.

Alex Belth made a great point: Hughes is the only starter the Yankees have that can consistently throw a fastball by a batter. That’s why their starting pitching has been sucky, they aren’t overpowering at all. The “outsmarting the hitter” schtick can get old when you see it 3 days in a row. Once in a while, you just need to reach back and use some brute force.

For a 20-yr old kid making his debut in Yankee Stadium admist a losing streak that seems longer than it really is, he did about as good as you could possible want. Too bad I won’t be able to talk about him as a prospect much longer.

A good friend of mine – also named Mike – was at the game and got some video footage of Hughes. I was hoping for some better shots as well as better quality, but that’s what you get for trusting a Canadian I suppose. Video after the jump…

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It wasn’t spectacular. It wasn’t what we dreamed. But don’t let the naysayers fool you: it also wasn’t bad. Trust me, we’re going to see a lot of innings like last night’s second — strikeout, strikeout, ground out — once he settles into his new role.

Wednesday, I discussed the benefits of the rainout. And while the bullpen certainly needed a day off, and Andy Pettitte dramatically increases our chances for a win tonight, there was an intangible benefit to having Pettitte pitch Wednesday. Might Hughes have benefitted from watching Pettitte work the game prior to his? It’s not a yes or no question, but it’s definitely something to think about.

The natural reaction following any game like this is to watch Baseball Tonight and see what the “experts” have to say. Surprisingly, Orel Hershiser nailed the analysis: he was falling behind with his fastball in the first inning, leaving him little options behind in the count. It’s a common ailment for rookies, whether they’re 20 or 25, out of high school or with college polish. He came out in the second, flashed his curve more, and was able to make quick work of the Jays’s B hitters.

That kind of pitch establishment will come with time. And, according to the logic I subscribe to and perpetuate, he’ll best learn that in the majors. Some say that he needs to learn to hold men on and pitch with runners in scoring position. They say that if he faces many of those situations in the majors, he’ll overthrow and become susceptible to arm injuries. I feel that those people are better at reporting than analyzing.

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Getting to know Alan Horne

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From NJ.com:

Horne, drafted by the Yankees in the 11th round in 2005 after being drafted by Cleveland (2001) and Anaheim (2004) and not sign ing, is in just his second year of pro baseball. The jump from Single-A to Double-A supposedly is the most difficult in a player’s career.

“No, I don’t think I am sur prised,” Horne said after earning the win last night as the Thunder were victorious for the sixth game in a row, a 2-1 victory over the Connecticut Defenders in front of 3,910 at Waterfront Park.

“I have worked hard for a real long time now. Hopefully, it is a lot of hard work paying off.”

“I am just trying to go out there every outing and execute all my pitches,” said Horne, who missed 2002 and 2003 in college due to Tommy John surgery.

“All through spring training I have been concentrating on throw ing more strikes. That was the problem last year. I walked a lot of guys. I am pitching well enough now that I am making the other guys have to hit to score runs. As long as I don’t give them extra base runners, I feel I will be fine.”

Horne is probably my favorite Yankee prospect that is actually pitching these days (I’m talking to you JB). His trouble with walks last year is well documented, but this year he’s completely turned it around, posting a 28-4 K/BB ratio in 22.1 innings. That’s the long running theme amongst pitching prospects, they all have to learn at some point that you have to throw strikes and not be afraid of contact. Thankfully Horne seems to be past that step.

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goodbadugly.jpg So maybe that didn’t go quite as well as we hoped, but Phil Hughes‘ Major League debut was decidedly not terrible. We’ll break it down over the course of the next day, and it looks now as though Hughes will start on Tuesday in Texas. For now, I want to bring you a few points from 20-year-old Phil Hughes’ first Major League start, Sergio Leone style.

The Good: In between a bad first inning and a bad fifth inning, Phil Hughes looked pretty good. As Steve at WasWatching.com noted, Hughes did a masterful job getting out the Blue Jays’ B hitters. And his strike out rate is now better than that of any other Yankee starter. His 5 strike outs in 4.1 innings translate into around 10 K/9 IP. With a 5:1 K:BB ratio, those are some fantastic peripherals. Hughes put these numbers up against a Blue Jay team that is league average in strike outs. The Rangers, his next opponent, are more frequent whiffers.

The Bad: Hughes had a very rocky first inning. It took him 27 pitches to get out of his first Major League inning. I would probably chalk that one up to nerves, and we’ll have to see how he does in Texas. But he also struggled against the All Stars in the Blue Jays lineup. Vernon Wells was 3-for-3, and Frank Thomas knocked in two runs. Hughes’ 7 hits in 4.1 innings isn’t too good, but throughout his career, his first start at a new level has always been a struggle. He was victimized by a tight strike zone and a bad call at first base too. We’ll see how he does next week against the Rangers. He’ll have to develop some more trust in his breaking pitches, and he’ll have to throw more strikes early on. Those are your keys to next week’s Phil Hughes start.

The Ugly: Doug Mientkiewicz went 0-for-3 tonight batting in …. the Number 2 spot?!?! What the $#*& is that all about? Dougie Baseball is currently hitting .152 with a .250 OBP and a slugging percentage at around .250. He’s 3 for his last 17, and that actually raised his batting average. So what does Joe Torre? He plugs him into a key spot in the lineup. Instead of going with Robinson Cano to avoid a lineup of three lefties in a row, instead of ever using Josh Phelps, Torre bats Mr. Automatic Out in the two hole, giving him four costly plate appearances. Doug Mientkiewicz with a negative MLV and a negative VORP is actually detracting from the Yankees’ offensive output. I’m dumbstruck by his presence in the Number 2 hole.

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  • New Stadium/Metro-North hub plans on ice

    Pardon me while I cross-promote myself. Part of the plans for the new Yankee Stadium called for a major Metro-North hub in order to reduce gameday traffic in the South Bronx. Well, now it looks like those plans are falling by the wayside because of monetary issues among the City, the MTA and the Yankees. It’s just business as usual for the MTA and the City, but all of a sudden, getting to the new Stadium may not be as easy as the Yankees and their fans had hoped. · (2) ·

Mark O’Brien is gettin’ the shaft. The Santa Clara University baseball coach doesn’t have a dominant, front-line ace to trot out there this weekend when his team takes on conference foe Loyola Marymount in one of the most important series of the season. Instead, O’Brien will have to watch his should-be ace, his prized recruit from 2004, take the mound for the New York Yankees later tonight. O’Brien, however, appears to be the only one who lost out in this situation.

The Yankees had one Mr. Philip J. Hughes ranked very high on their draft board in 2004, and were ecstatic when they landed him at #23 overall. Even though he had been pitching for only 3 years, they loved his potential. Who do you have to thank for helping Hughes end up in pinstripes? Scott Boras, and he’s not even Hughes’ agent.

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Down on the Farm

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Triple-A Scranton rained out. No makeup date announced.

Double-A Trenton rained out. No makeup date announced.

High-A Tampa (3-1 loss to Dunedin)
Reegie Corona: 2 for 4, 1 K – 12 for his last 27
Jose Tabata: 0 for 3, 1 R, 1 HBP – 5 H and 2 K in last 23 AB
Mr. Miranda: 2 for 4, 1 2B, 1 K – first XBH in 11 games
Edwar Gonzalez: 1 for 3, 1 BB, 1 SB, 1 CS
Kevin Russo: 0 for 2, 1 RBI, 1 K
James Cooper: 1 for 3, 1 2B
Mike Martinez: 4 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 3 K – first start since his senior year at Fullerton in 2004
Wilkins Arias: 1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 2 K

Low-A Charleston had a scheduled off day.

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I’m sure everyone has heard that tonight’s game is a washout. No, they won’t play a doubleheader tomorrow.

This, of course, is great news. And it extends beyond the fact that I still get to see Phil Hughes pitch tomorrow night.

First, it allows Andy Pettitte to move back to Friday’s start against the Red Sox. Instead of Karstens – Igawa – Wang, the rotation is now Pettitte – Igawa/Karstens (hopefully Karstens) – Wang. They’ll be lined up against Matsuzaka – Wakefield – Tavarez. I definitely like the Yankees chances better under this scenario. If the Yanks can pull a repeat performance on Matsuzaka, well, let’s just say that Pettitte won’t be giving up four straight bombs.

The news gets better, though. The game being rained out means that the Yankees bullpen gets a freakin’ full day off! Woo hoo! If Hughes can go six tomorrow, the pen should be decently rested for the weekend series — which will be followed by an off day. And, if the Yankees tee off on Burnett, we can just bring in this guy

and continue resting the guys in the bullpen who, given proper rest, can actually shut down the opposing team in a big spot.

On Monday, when Hughes’s start was announced, Mike immediately informed me that rain was in the forecast. It worried me for a second, until I realized that weathermen are as good at predicting the weather as Orestes Destrade is at predicting the baseball season.

Of course, when weathermen make these predictions, they don’t factor in the will of the Baseball Gods. For if they did, they would have known that it wouldn’t rain on Thursday, the Major League debut of Phil Franchise.

The Yankees needed two things immediately: some rest for the bullpen and a sweep against Boston. Today’s rain facilitates those needs. The Baseball Gods are smiling upon our New York Yankees.

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From his ESPN.com chat:

Matias (Buenos Aires, Argentina) : Jim, do you regard the Phil Hughes situation as a panic button situation for the Yankees?

SportsNation Jim Callis: (2:29 PM ET ) Not at all. He has a great arm, better than anyone they have. He’s ready.

‘Nuff said.

Update: I squeezed in a question:

Mike A. (SD, CA): Now that Hughes is up, who’s the best Yankee pitching prospect in the minors?

SportsNation Jim Callis: (3:07 PM ET ) If you don’t count Joba Chamberlain (hamstring) or Dellin Betances (extended spring), who aren’t actually on clubs right now, and discount all the victims of elbow injuries . . . my favorite is Kevin Whelan. Yankees would go with Ian Kennedy. I might too, if I had a report on his stuff. Have to go to the draft phones now, see you next week.

Kennedy has been tearing it up: 19 IP, 12 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 8 BB, 19 K, .190 BAA. All he’s got to do is cut down on those walks…

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Player WPA Pitcher WPA
Posada .195 Vizcaino .138
Matsui .177 Farnsworth .017
Phelps .121 Bruney .004
Jeter .024 Wang -.104
Minky -.013 Myers -.506
Cairo -.016
Melky -.027
Damon -.039
Alex -.051
Abreu -.116
Giambi -.145
Cano -.159

*I’ve removed pLI from the tables. The stat doesn’t sit well with me. It doesn’t tell you a whole lot. If you look at the LI for each situation, yeah. But an average over the course of a game? Nothing.

I’m not a big platoon guy unless the numbers — over a reasonable sample size — bear something out. And yes, one game isn’t a large sample size. Is it just coincidence, then, that Abreu, Giambi, and Cano were the offensive goats of the game? Probably. And it’s not like you’re going to sit any of them because of a pitching matchup — especially because of Melky’s ineptitude this season. It’s not like they have bad lefty-righty splits.

Ben summed up the game from the bullpen angle. The talent is all there…it’s just a matter of having them pitch two or three innings a game rather than four or five. But I’ll let Ben’s words speak for themselves.

The game started off on an exciting note. Both of our recently-returned DLers contributed. Despite the WPA, Wang pitched well, especially for a guy who was making his first start of the season on April 24. He scattered a few hits, which is going to happen, but he didn’t really let it phase him until the fourth. After a bloop and a double in the seventh, he came out for pitch count reasons. That move can be contested, but it’s one of those double edged swords, so it’s not worth levying criticism. However, I will say this: I would have rather had pitch to Harris with the bases loaded than Vizcaino. Viz has had control problems all year, and he ended up getting lucky that the liner was hit right at Cairo. Wang, on the other hand, could have induced the groundball double play to end it. Just sayin…

I thought Mike Myers was supposed to be the guy to come in and get out a tough lefty. Yet, when he’s been called upon to do so, he’s gotten smacked around. However, he’s been stellar in mop-up duty. I know it’s a very small sample, but I’d be reluctant to let him pitch to Ortiz or Drew this weekend. Or hell, even Lyle Overbay over the next two days.

There were some highlights on the offensive side, like Matsui’s shot that nearly hit his digital visage out in right field. Every time you think the guy is looking shaky at the plate, he goes and whales one like that. It’ll be extra nice to have him back in the lineup against Boston, where he can do some serious damage.

Phelps was another highlight, driving in the go-ahead run in the seventh. But then Joe pinch ran for him, which kinda came back to bite him in the ass. I understand the situation: Phelps standing on second, one run lead. You want a guy scoring on a single, so you put the faster runner in there. Problem is, the hitter was Miguel Cairo. What, you actually think he’s going to single and bring in that run? You’re going to replace a potent bat because you want the runner on second to score on a highly unlikely single? Some may say I’m nitpicking, but I think I have a valid point here. The worst case scenario arose in the ninth, as the Yanks, down by two runs, have their final two outs in the hands of Melky Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz.

I don’t know why Johnny Damon was replaced, and I didn’t hear anything about it this morning. I hope it was because his hammies or back were acting up on him, because there’s really no other way to justify that sub. If it was just to give Damon a break from the turf, well, then that’s just stupid. Instead of having Cano-Phelps-Damon in the ninth, the Yanks trotted out Cano-Cabrera-Mientkiewicz. A considerable drop-off, to say the least.

Thankfully, Andy Pettitte is headed to the hill tonight. He’s delivered when the Yanks have needed him to this season. He’s going to have an “eh” start sooner or later. Hopefully, that won’t come tonight — the bullpen sure could use an 8-inning performance.

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