Phil Hughes acknowledges that pitching out of the bullpen last season made him a better pitcher, but he doesn’t point to the development of his cutter or improvement of his fastball command.
“I was able to go down there and get some confidence,” he said. “I was kind of up and down my first few years, and I really didn’t have that confidence that I needed to be in this situation, in this role. Going down there and having success really helped. That’s really the only thing I take from last year.”
It’s more fun to romanticize Hughes’ season as a setup man. It’s a better to picture him learning in the shadow of Mariano Rivera, becoming bigger and stronger, learning how to put away big league hitters one eighth inning at a time. And some of that might have happened.
But Hughes flirted with a no-hitter in his second big league start when he was 20 years old. His stuff has been electric from the beginning. Sure, there was some growing up to do, and Hughes needed to find some consistency, but he also needed to realize that not every major league hitter is going to crush every major league fastball. He had to realize that he was good enough to face the best hitters in the world — in huge situations — and get those outs.
“He pitched in those tough games all last year for us,” Joe Girardi said. “Where there was never a lot of room for error, and he always seemed to find a way to get it done.”
Said Hughes: “You have those streaks of good outings and pretty soon you feel like you belong.”
Here’s the first half of Hughes rather lengthy postgame conversation.
Associated Press photo