Things are different now. The change happened early, it was impossible to miss it. It was right there on the scoreboard, in big glowing digits. A 95 mph fastball to strikeout Carlos Quentin and cap an overwhelming first inning. Walking off the mound, Phil Hughes looked over his shoulder and saw the number.
“I knew it was coming out good from the beginning,” he said. “I got some swings and misses early. I knew it was good. I happened to glance up after I got Quentin in the first inning and saw 95, and I just said, ‘Alright, I can work with this.’ This is what normally have and what I can normally do. Once I got that confidence in the first inning, I just took that aggressive mindset and rolled with it.”
There’s a reason you’ve known Hughes’ name since he was a teenager. There’s a reason the Yankees refused to include him in so many trades, and there’s a reason they stuck with him after that disappointing month of April and that uneven return from the disabled list: The guy’s good.
He’s been searching for consistency, and that’s been a concern. At times he’s lacked a true out pitch, and that’s caused some problems. He’s been an absolute disappointment this season, and even he knows it. But tonight was everything that there is to like about Hughes, and it’s the reason that the Yankees will most certainly think twice about bumping him from the rotation.
“We talked about trying to get him back to where he was last year, (and) today was pretty close,” Joe Girardi said. “… We have to talk about this. Maybe we stay at six-man rotation through another time. I don’t know what we’re going to do at this moment, but I’m happy with what I saw tonight, and I really liked it.”
For the past few days, it’s been impossible for Hughes to ignore his situation. Ivan Nova’s locker is literally five feet away from his, and yesterday he spent several minutes answering questions about an unsettled rotation and the possibility of the Yankees making a change. Tonight, it was Hughes who changed. He made his case, and the Yankees took notice.
“It really didn’t even come into my mind, everything that was going on,” he said. “It was more of a personal thing for me. I wanted to pitch well. I knew I could be better than what I had been showing, and that was basically it. I wanted to satisfy myself before everybody else, and I’m pretty satisfied with this one and hopefully it’s something that will continue.”
• Mark Teixeira has now homered from both sides of the plate in same game 12 times, more than anyone in baseball history. “There is a lot of failure in this game, there’s no doubt,” Teixeira said. “When you can put your name in the record books for something like this? Being a switch hitter is very tough, and this was a nice night for me.”
• Teixeira also became the fourth Yankee to hit 30 home runs in each of his first three seasons with the Yankees, joining Babe Ruth, Roger Maris and Alex Rodriguez. Feel free to read those three names again. Yowza.
• Back to Hughes for a bit: He was at 65 pitches when the second rain delay came. He actually walked onto the field for the bottom of the seventh, with the rain falling down and the tarp already coming on the field. He joked that he was trying to convince them to let the game continue. “I was hoping they just wouldn’t run me over with the tarp,” he said.
• The fastball wasn’t the only plus for Hughes tonight. He was also very happy with his cutter — a pitch that’s been bothering him lately — and he showed an extremely hard, tight curveball. He struck out Adam Dunn and A.J. PIerzynski with curveballs. The Pierzynski curveball was 82 mph. I double checked with Hughes just to be sure. It really was a curveball at 82.
• Hughes said coming into this game that he wanted to be more aggressive with his fastball, but he said he didn’t necessarily mean to throw nothing but fastballs in the first inning. It just kind of happened that way. “I threw a couple of fastballs in to Pierre and Vizquel, and then I was aggressive with Quentin,” he said. “That’s just the way it went.”
• As much as the velocity obviously stands out — Hughes still hit 94 in the fourth inning — Hughes immediately answered “location of my fastball” when asked what made the biggest difference tonight. It always comes down to command, doesn’t it?
• One last Hughes note on velocity: “I’ve always been a guy where I let it all go,” he said. “Whenever it starts to decline, it declines. I felt like ti was still good enough later on. I wasn’t really checking the scoreboard, but I was just trying to execute pitches and I got a lot of early outs in those middle innings.”
• The Yankees did score six runs in seven innings tonight, so the offense wasn’t exactly slumping. They’ve won five straight and nine of their past 12, and they’re 24-9 against left-handed starters this season.
• Russell Martin homered for the first time since June 29. This was his first road home run since April 23 in Baltimore.
• Other than Teixeira, who had three hits, the only other Yankee with multiple hits was Derek Jeter who singled and doubled in his first two at-bats. Brett Gardner was the only Yankees starter without a hit.
• Even though it was a rain-shortened game, all stats count, even the ones from the top of the seventh inning. The game was delayed 45 minutes at the start, then delayed another 57 minutes before it was called.
• A final word from Hughes: “If I could have picked a way that I wanted to pitch, this would be it.”
Associated Press photos