Huff will start Saturday, Hughes moving to bullpen

Left-hander David Huff will start against the Red Sox on Saturday, Joe Girardi announced. Phil Hughes is moving to the bullpen and could be available as soon as tomorrow. Clearly the right move based on this morning’s poll.

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Poll: Three options with Hughes and Huff

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

For the third time in the last two weeks or so, left-hander David Huff came out of the bullpen to give the Yankees a quality long relief appearance yesterday. He’s been so effective — one run on six hits and five walks with ten strikeouts in 14 innings across three extended outings — the team should consider putting him in the rotation over the generally ineffective Phil Hughes. Like seriously consider it. Not think about it for two seconds and maintain the status quo.

“I haven’t made any decisions about changing the rotation,” said Joe Girardi to Brian Heyman after yesterday’s win, which isn’t surprising because the Yankees rarely announce a rotation change after a game. That’s something they tend to announce the next day after sleeping on it and talking to everyone involved. Starters only pitch once every five days, so there’s no reason to rush into a decision like that.

The 29-year-old Huff is pretty much a known commodity at this point. He spent parts of three seasons in the Indians’ rotation and pitched to a 5.50 ERA and 4.93 FIP in 258.2 innings. That’s awful. Actually worse than Hughes has been this year. That said, Huff has pitched pretty well of late and sometimes that’s enough of a reason to make a change. Replacing the guy who has been pitching poorly with the guy who has been pitching well isn’t crazy idea, especially when both have track records of being below-average pitchers. Maybe the other guys throws the month of his life. Who knows?

Given the weirdness of yesterday’s game with the rain delay and everything, I see the Yankees having three options with Hughes, Huff, and the rotation. Let’s break ‘em down before we vote on which is best.

Option One: Do Nothing
The easiest option and one that always exists. The Yankees could simply leave Hughes in the rotation and start him Saturday against the Red Sox as scheduled. Huff remains in the bullpen and that’s that. Nothing changes. It’s boring and probably a bad idea, but it is a justifiable option given Huff’s career performance as a starter.

(Rich Schultz/Getty)
(Rich Schultz/Getty)

Option Two: Replace Hughes with Huff
The second option is pretty straight forward. Take Hughes out of the rotation and replace him with Huff. Simple. Phil joins the middle relief crew — he’s never not been awesome in the bullpen, which would hopefully continue — and Huff gets the ball every five days with a short leash. He was stretched out as a starter with Triple-A Scranton, but it has been a while and he was pretty clearly starting to run out of gas around 55 pitches yesterday (he threw 62 total). That could be because he threw eight pitches on Sunday.

The Yankees won’t get a full 100+ pitches out of Huff, at least not right away, but it’s not like Hughes was giving them much length anyway. He failed to complete five innings of work in four of his last six starts prior to yesterday’s rain-shortened outing. Either way, Girardi & Co. would have to plan to use their bullpen heavily whenever this rotation spot comes up. Thank goodness for September call-ups.

Option Three: Start Hughes on Wednesday
People like the word creative, so let’s call this the creative solution. Because he only threw 20 low-stress pitches before the rain yesterday, the Yankees could start Hughes tomorrow and have his rotation spot avoid the upcoming four-game Red Sox series. The long-term concerns are nil — Phil is almost certainly a goner after the season — and with expanded rosters, there are plenty of extra arms to soak up whatever innings are leftover. Hughes might not be able to give the team a full 100-pitch start on what amounts to one day of rest, but it’s not like he was pitching deep into games anyway.

By starting Hughes against the White Sox on Wednesday, they would push CC Sabathia back to Thursday and let him start against Boston with an extra day of rest. Sabathia has not been good against the Red Sox this year (or anyone else for that matter), but I don’t think I’m alone in saying I’d rather see him out there against Boston than Hughes or Huff. Having the worst starter face a last place team instead of a first place team is the best case scenario.

* * *

Long relievers are like backup quarterbacks in the sense that it always seems like the guy on the bench could do a better job. In reality, there’s usually a very good reason they’re on the bench, or, in this case, the bullpen. Huff’s track record says he would really stink in the rotation, but so does Hughes’. The Yankees are picking between two grenades and hoping they get the one that hasn’t had the pin pulled.

What should the Yankees do with their fifth starter's spot?

Yankees push Phil Hughes back to Monday

Thanks to yesterday’s off-day, the Yankees have pushed Phil Hughes‘ next start back from Sunday to Monday. That allows him to start against the last place White Sox rather than the wildcard rival Orioles. Andy Pettitte, who was scheduled to start Monday, will instead start against Baltimore on Sunday on normal rest. Not surprising at all. The Yankees can’t run Hughes out there against a good team and expect to win.

This should be the end of the line for Hughes

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn))
(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

In what became an unfortunate running theme for this season, Phil Hughes did not complete five innings of work nor did he give the Yankees a reasonable chance to win on Monday night. His latest dud featured five runs (three earned) and ten base-runners in just 4.2 innings against a Blue Jays team without Jose Bautista or any other member of their starting outfield. Some guys named Ryan Goins, Moises Sierra, and Kevin Pillar went a combined 3-for-5 with a walk, a sac bunt, and a sac fly though. Think about that.

That performance has Phil sitting on a 4.91 ERA — that ranks 80th out of 85 qualified starting pitchers, by the way — and 4.55 FIP in 135.2 innings across 25 starts, an average of just 5.1 innings per start. This isn’t a stretch of four or five bad starts, Hughes has been awful all year. Easily the weak link in the rotation, which is hard to believe when CC Sabathia ranks 78th (!) out of those 85 qualifiers with a 4.81 ERA. I really hate what Sabathia has become this year, but I digress.

“It’s been very difficult,” said Hughes to Bryan Hoch following last night’s game. “Every time I feel like I make some progress the last couple times out, it seems like you have these hiccups and it’s the way the whole season has gone. It’s been difficult, it’s been a struggle. I guess every time you have one of these outings I try and look at the positive. I still have the opportunity to pitch in big games where it really matters and that’s all I can do. I can’t get down on myself or negative all the time. I just have to stay confident and aggressive every time they give me the ball.”

Therein lies the rub: the Yankees shouldn’t give Hughes the ball anymore, at least not as a starter. Not if they’re serious about winning and making a run to the postseason. They’re five games behind the Athletics for the second wildcard spot in the loss column and have a 7.8% chance of making the playoffs according to Baseball Prospectus. There are only 31 games left in the season and no margin for error, at least not enough of one to continue running Hughes out there every fifth day. A change has to be made if they want to have a chance.

“Right now [Hughes is] in our rotation,” said Joe Girardi to Hoch. “We haven’t talked about taking him out of our rotation. I think he had a walk that scored; a couple walks hurt him today. We didn’t make the play behind him and it looks a lot different if it’s three runs in five innings.”

Replacing Hughes will have to be an outside-the-organization thing because the team’s sixth (David Phelps), seventh (Vidal Nuno), and eighth (Michael Pineda) starters are all hurt. Adam Warren has been solid overall (3.69 ERA and 4.80 FIP), but he has a 5.30 ERA and 5.85 FIP since mid-May. That’s rough. As bad as Hughes has been, I find it hard to believe Warren would be a rotation upgrade. David Huff has been impressive in two long relief outings against the lowly Blue Jays but otherwise has a 5.25 ERA and 4.74 FIP in almost 300 career innings. He’s the best in-house option and that really, really bites.

Joe has already written about trading for Dan Haren, and yesterday Derrick Goold said the Nationals want “a group of prospects” for the right-hander. Who knows what that means. Haren has been awesome in nine starts (and one relief appearance) since coming off DL (2.53 ERA and 3.09 FIP) and is almost certainly the best starter the Yankees will find on the market at this time of year. Edinson Volquez? Erik Bedard? Joe Saunders? Volquez (6.01 ERA) and Joe Saunders (4.91 ERA) have been as bad or worse than Hughes despite pitching in much more favorable ballparks. Bedard has made no secret of his dislike of big cities. There isn’t much help out there.

At the very least, the Yankees should use Thursday’s off-day to rearrange the rotation and make sure Hughes does not face the Orioles this coming weekend. They can push him back to the White Sox series next week. That has to happen, the series against Baltimore is way too important. The team needs to figure out a way to replace Hughes for the rest of the season — I thought they should have done that prior to the trade deadline — if they want to have a chance at making the playoffs in Mariano Rivera‘s final season. Phil is out of rope. Things need to change.

One Way To Improve the Pitching Staff

When the Yankees surged early in the year, they did it largely on the backs of the pitching staff. Hiroki Kuroda was pitching like an ace, CC Sabathia hadn’t fallen apart, David Phelps came on strong, and Phil Hughes pitched very well in a number of his starts (though got creamed in others). Even Andy Pettite had pitched well, and when he got hurt the Yankees got pretty competent performances in his absence.

This is no longer the case. Since the Yankees tumbled out of first the pitching staff has performed considerably worse, leaving the Yankees in fourth place and six games back of the Wild Card. Worse, they have no games remaining against five of the eight teams ahead of them in the AL standings. If they’re going to fight their ways back into this they need a 1995-esque run, which means running the board against AL East opponents.

The Yankees have addressed one area of weakness, finding a platoon partner for Lyle Overbay in Mark Reynolds. That should give them some additional firepower against lefties, which they sorely need. Yet it won’t be enough on its own. They need plenty of other help to leapfrog four teams and slide into the second Wild Card slot. The pitching staff represents one area where they could make a solid improvement.

Earlier today we learned that Phil Hughes is willing to pitch out of the bullpen next year. My only question is, why wait? Hughes’s 4.97 ERA ranks 43rd out of 46 qualified AL starters. He’s averaging a hair more than 5.1 innings per start. His woes also didn’t start this year. Since his return to the rotation in 2010 he ranks 49th out of 63 qualified starters in ERA. Things have gone downhill since then, as he ranks 39th out of 42 since 2011.

The problem is that the Yankees don’t have a viable replacement at the moment. Adam Warren could perhaps fit the bill, but he’s still an unknown at this point. Brett Marshall hasn’t exactly earned a spot with his AAA performances. Vidal Nuno is on the DL, as is David Phelps. Michael Pineda would have been nice here, but chances are we won’t see him pitch again this year. If the Yankees want to make such a transition, they’d have to look outside the organization.

A couple of well-known pitchers have cleared waivers in the last few days. First is left-hander Erik Bedard, the last remaining Astro earning more than $1 million. His overall season doesn’t look much better than Hughes’s, so that could be an exercise in futility. The other name is quite a bit more interesting: Dan Haren.

Like Bedard, Haren has struggled this year. His 4.82 ERA is actually higher than Hughes’s. Yet that doesn’t tell the whole story. Haren actually had a 6.15 ERA through his first 15 starts, but then went on the DL with right shoulder inflammation. That must have been truly bothering him, because he has been downright phenomenal since his return on July 8th: 2.30 ERA in 43 innings, meaning he’s averaging over six innings per start. Opponents are hitting .191/.250/.283 off him, and he’s struck out 42 while walking just 10.

For their part, the Nats are in a much worse position than the Yankees. They might have fewer teams between them and the second Wild Card (just two), but they’re also 9.5 games back of it with 42 games left to play. Their only chances against teams ahead of them (Atlanta notwithstanding, because that’s simply not happening) come with the last two series of the year, against St. Louis and Arizona. Oh, and they’re under .500 120 games into the season. If they can get even a C prospect and salary relief for Haren, they might as well try.

For the Yanks, the time has come to grasp at straws. That’s exactly what the Mark Reynolds acquisition represents. They’re looking at what’s available and adding where they can. Adding Haren, and moving Hughes to the bullpen, should help shore up both aspects of the pitching staff. They could jettison its weakest member, Joba Chamberlain, in hopes that Hughes not only performs better, but can become a reliable part of the setup crew, as he was in 2009.

(As an added bonus, if the Yanks get this done before the doubleheader Tuesday, both Haren and Hughes are lined up to pitch. That would work out better than having to call up Marshall [assuming David Huff gets DFA’d to make room for Reynolds today].)