Hard to compare today’s Phil Hughes to the one we saw a year ago. He’s in noticeably better shape, but how much of a difference does that make? How much of last year’s struggles were strictly because of that shoulder injury that went undiagnosed for so long? How much can you learn from some early bullpen sessions with not hitters in the box?
“I think his curveball has been a little bit more crisp,” Joe Girardi said today. “I think there’s more arm speed there. I think the ball’s coming out better. We’re gonna truly find out when the games start, but it just looks like he’s throwing the ball better this spring than last year at this time… He was hurt last year and that didn’t help. I can’t tell you what I attribute it to, but we know that (better condition) can’t hurt.”
With no bench spots available, the lineup pretty much decided and only one job up for grabs in the bullpen, the fifth starter competition is easily the most compelling decision of the spring. There will be plenty of curiosity about Michael Pineda, and it will be interesting to see Dave Robertson and Rafael Soriano make their cases for the eighth inning, and Raul Ibanez is a new face for everyone to meet. But this year’s ongoing storyline will be at the back of the rotation.
I’ve written before that, in the big picture, the Yankees best-case scenario is to have Hughes grab that spot and never let go. He’s still pretty young with considerable talent, and the Yankees would be better off having him win a rotation spot for the next decade rather than have Freddy Garcia return for another one-year cameo.
But Hughes has to earn it. In some ways, Garcia is the safer pick. He’s a veteran coming off a strong season, and he’s proven that he knows how to get outs with his less-than-overpowering stuff. It’s up to Hughes to prove that he can do it better, for this year and next.
Associated Press photo