Phil Hughes wasn’t just good tonight, he was great. Six scoreless innings, two hits, two walks, six strikeouts. He threw 59 of 99 pitches for strikes and never cracked in a scoreless duel with Edwin Jackson.
If you were watching closely, Hughes had to fight to get command of his curveball. It was all over the place in the first few innings, even when he threw it for strikes. When he struck out Placido Polanco in the first inning, it was on a curve that wasn’t where he wanted it.
But Hughes made the adjustment between innings, a skill that eluded him last season.
“He was getting quick with his lower half and I said something to him,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said. “He made the adjustment whereas last year he had something else in his head. He’s much more focused and confident now.”
For me, it was the best Hughes has looked since May 1, 2007 in Texas. He no-hit the Rangers for 6.1 innings that night and struck out six. But he also tore his hamstring. It wasn’t until late last summer in Scranton that the real Hughes started to emerge again after two fruitless seasons.
If you go back to Scranton’s postseason last September and add in the Arizona Fall League, spring training and his first three starts in Scranton this season, Hughes was 7-0 with a 2.17 ERA over 16 starts.
Over 74.2 innings, his line was 51 hits, 18 earned runs, 27 walks and 77 strikeouts. He was heading back to the majors like a speeding car. What he did tonight was confirmation.
I asked him how long ago that game against Texas seemed.
“Ages,” Hughes said. “Ages and not a lot of wins later. Anytime you can talk about a stretch of two years almost and you’ve got a couple wins to show for it between that time, it seems like a long time ago. There were points last year where, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty lost. I felt like I had forgotten how to pitch and things weren’t falling into place for me. I just tried to keep working as hard as I could.”
Chien-Ming Wang is going to be out for a while. Hughes has his chance and if he runs with it, he’ll never see Scranton again. You can’t forget that he doesn’t turn 23 until June. Those last two years weren’t a sign of anything more than inexperience and injury.
“I think he has something to prove,” Eiland said. “That’s a good thing. He can build on this, but it’s only one game. Let’s see him do it again and again and again. He was tremendous tonight. But I’ve seen him do that before and it doesn’t surprise me. That’s how good he can be.”
Here is Hughes talking after the game:
Thanks to everybody for reading tonight and I hope you enjoyed the game. I think a few months from now, we’re all going to look back on tonight as a very important night for this team.