If you watched the game today, you may have noticed that Phil Hughes had a nice, tight curveball. It looked different than the curve he used to throw and I asked him about it.
Hughes explained that he’s throwing his curve with the same arm speed as his fastball. So instead of a big loop (picture Mike Mussina’s curve), it goes to the plate on a straighter plane but still has some action as it gets there. It’s how A.J. Burnett throws his curve.
Hughes devoted a lot of time in the Arizona Fall League to working on that particular pitch. “It’s hard to change because you get used to throwing a pitch a certain way,” he said. “In games, you tend to go back to what is comfortable. But they’ve been staying on me to throw the power curve more. I have to trust it and I do.”
That was the pitch he fanned Adam Dunn on.
Hughes also has changed the grip on his change-up. He throws it like a splitter.
Consistent arm speed is huge for a pitcher, as that is how you deceive the hitter. If the hitter can see a pitcher’s arm slowing down, he can adjust to a breaking pitch or a change-up.
It’s important to remember, I think, that Hughes is 22 and is still learning his craft. He said that often times last year, he went to the mound armed only with his fastball and that looping curve. Now he has a fastball, a tighter curve, a change-up he likes and a cutter that is getting better and better.
Hughes allowed three hits against a great lineup today. One was a bleeder by Dustin Pedroia. Ryan Braun shattered his bat on a single to left. Then Derek Jeter got one of his “I’ve done this a million times” 17-hopper up the middle that scored two runs with two outs. If you watched Hughes today, you saw a guy who can be special.
“He was impressive,” Jorge Posada said. “Everything I saw, I liked.”
Scott Aldred, who really knows his stuff, will be the pitching coach in AAA this year. He worked with Hughes in Arizona. That will help Hughes continue the progress he is making.
Obviously, it’s about health in the end. Counting Arizona and everything else, Hughes has thrown only 220 innings the last two seasons. That’s about 130 innings fewer than they would have hoped. There is no replacing that experience.
If he stays healthy, Hughes can do some great things. He may start the season in Scranton, but Hughes is going to play a significant role with the Yankees this season one way or another. He’s too good not to.