The best thing that can be said about Phil Hughes is he’s healthy and throwing hard, but that’s not saying much. That’s because Hughes is off to another slow start for the Yankees, and his fastball is getting pounded all over the park.
With Andy Pettitte and Michael Pineda returning in the coming weeks and David Phelps pitching himself into the picture, the question is how long is Hughes’ leash? At 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA, he is hoping to bounce back in his third start tonight against the Twins.
“I have to pitch well, that’s the bottom line,” Hughes said before the Yankees’ 6-5 loss to the Twins Wednesday night at the Stadium. “That’s part of being a Yankee. If you’re not getting the job done they’ll bring in somebody else that does. It pushes me to be that much better and I enjoy that. There’s no doubt in my fastball this year. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter if you’re throwing 100. If you’re not getting outs, something has to change.
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“Whether it’s someone coming up or whether it’s Andy or Pineda getting healthy, I just have to pitch well, and we’ll see where it falls. But I have to do my job first.’’
Manager Joe Girardi said competition with Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia for the final spots in the rotation could put pressure on Hughes, but added that’s a good thing.
“They’re probably all going to think about it,’’ Girardi said. “But they all thought about it in spring training, and that worked out pretty well. Maybe it’s a good thing that people are getting closer and coming back. But I don’t want to make too much of two starts or one start.’’
Nevertheless, those starts are hard to ignore because they have been so poor. Hughes has coughed up 13 hits and eight earned runs in two starts, lasting just eight innings.
“He’s gotten in some longer counts and hasn’t been able to put hitters away. No. 2, he’s made some mistakes up,’’ Girardi said. “There’s a fine line when you pitch up there. If you don’t get high enough, a lot of times they’re going to be hit hard. So when he chooses to go up in the zone, he’s got to make sure he gets it there.’’
Catcher Russell Martin said it’s not just simply elevating higher, but keeping the other fastballs down and creating a bigger gap when he does choose to come up high.
“I’d rather see him keep the ball down earlier in the count, and when he needs to elevate have a big differential,” Martin said. “When you change their eye level, it becomes a more effective pitch. If he’s staying in the middle of the zone and then tries to go up a little higher it doesn’t have that same effect.
“It’s more of a location thing,” he added. “The velocity is there, everything’s there. If you keep your fastball down early, you can use your changeup. It makes your other pitches better.’’
Hughes hasn’t been able to finish off hitters with his heat, and he hasn’t gotten swings and misses on his cutter or curve because hitters are laying off his change and waiting for his fastball.
“I’m trying to be more aggressive, go back to what I really want to do as a pitcher, and that’s attack,’’ Hughes said. “When I get in jams I almost want to be a little too fine, not go to my fastball as much.’’
Phil Hughes, Joe Girardi, Andy Pettitte, Michael Pineda, David Phelps