Here’s what struck me about tonight’s postgame conversations about Phil Hughes: They were perfectly normal. They were about a pitcher needing to be more downhill with his delivery and needing to put away a few more hitters with two strikes. They weren’t about a pitcher with a dead arm or a weak shoulder or a mysterious inability to pitch at this level.
These weren’t the same conversations we were having three months ago.
“People are going to say it’s a good outing, but we know that he can be better,” Joe Girardi said. “We know that he can be downhill more… I talked about with the extra days off and the first outing, my concern was that he would be up a little bit. That’s what we saw.”
Hughes’ stuff was pretty much the same in the fifth as it was in the first. He didn’t fatigue suddenly or drastically, and his fastball pretty much sat around 92 mph. There were some 93s and some 91s, but he was more or less 92 all night.
“That’s right where I need to be,” Hughes said. “But it was more an issue of location and putting hitters away tonight.”
Hughes went five innings and allowed two runs, both in the first inning. He gave up six hits, but all of them were singles. He walked two batters and hit two batters, but he pitched pretty well with runners on base. Hughes said rust and adrenalin might have had something to do with mechanics that were a little bit off, but that seemed fixable.
If you were hoping for an overwhelming, dominant return from Hughes, this wasn’t it. But considering where he was three months ago, this was a clear sign that Hughes has gotten better. He’s a viable big league starter again.
“It’s nice to go out there and actually have stuff you feel like you can compete with,” Hughes said. “In the first inning I felt like my mechanics were a little off today, and I was trying to make adjustments and talking to Larry in between innings about what I needed to do, but I never really felt like I got into a groove. I think it kind of stemmed from that first inning, and not being able to get out of that inning as quickly as I would have liked.”
Here’s Hughes. Fair warning, there was a lot of noise in the clubhouse, especially toward the end of this clip, when people were cleaning up dishes.
• Derek Jeter was one of the few Yankees who actually had some good at-bats against Indians starter Justin Masterson. He struck out in the first inning, but he drove a ball to center field in the third inning, drew a walk in the sixth and doubled to the opposite field in the eighth. “I feel pretty good,” Jeter said. “Yesterday I thought I had some good at-bats. Sometimes guys are going to make pitches and you look foolish, but today especially I thought I had some good swings.”
• I’m not sure whether you’ve heard, but Jeter’s closing in on 3,000 hits, and tonight’s double put him three away. He has four home games coming up. “I’m looking forward to it,” Jeter said. “I wish I would have gotten more today, but it wasn’t the case. I’m definitely looking forward to going back to New York.”
• Kind of an uneven night for Boone Logan, who got some big outs but also hit a batter and gave up a solo homer to a rookie lefty. Logan’s been pitching pretty well lately, and Girardi didn’t see this as a significant step back. “He left a fastball middle-in, that’s all,” Girardi said.
• Bad night for Sergio Mitre, who walked in a run, then allowed a sacrifice fly and gave up the two runs that ultimately made the difference. “He had a hard time throwing his fastball for strikes,” Girardi said. “His changeup, he got swings and misses on. His curveball, he threw some strikes. He had a hard time throwing his fastball for strikes.”
• Girardi wasn’t going to use Mariano Rivera, so that affected his bullpen decisions in those late innings. Both Rivera and Girardi said they expect Rivera to be back tomorrow. Girardi said he’s not worried because Rivera’s been better day by day.
• Rivera was pretty funny postgame. He said nothing had changed since pregame, so he was refusing to be interviewed. “I’ve had enough of you guys right now,” he said. He was mostly just giving everyone a hard time, but he was legitimately not interested in answering any more questions.
• Hughes has no idea when he’ll pitch again. He asked a couple of days ago, but the Yankees told him they weren’t sure yet. Now that he’s through his big league return, Hughes expects to have a plan within a day or two.
• Hughes could have kept going, but the Yankees felt he’d worked pretty hard through his 87 pitches and didn’t want to send him back out for the sixth. “(Larry Rothschild) just felt like I labored in that first and last inning a little bit,” Hughes said. “I didn’t really have an issue with it. I would have liked to have gone back out there, but we were still in the game at that point, and I wasn’t throwing the ball extremely well. Probably the right move to go to the bullpen.”
• There seems to be nothing people hate more than when Yankees hitters give credit to the opposing starter, but Masterson really was outstanding tonight. The guy throws in the mid-90s with huge sink. He throws almost all fastballs, but that’s because its such a good pitch. “It seems like his ball moves as much as anyone we’ve seen, and he’s throwing 95, 96 all night,” Jeter said.
• In the fourth inning, Masterson struck out the side. The four hitters: Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano. “You don’t see that very often,” Girardi said.
Associated Press photos (as you might guess, the AP is moving almost all Jeter photos at this point)