It’s worth remembering that Phil Hughes has been in a rotation competition before. He’s been forced to come back from injuries before, he’s familiar with the burden of high expectations, and he’s answered plenty of uncomfortable questions about disappointing numbers and an uncertain future.
There’s very little about this spring that’s entirely new for a 25-year-old former first-round pick who’s career has already reached its share of highs and lows.
“It’s hard to worry about it when I just come in and do my work and do everything I can and just leave everything else up to the organization,” Hughes said. “Whether it’s signing Andy Pettitte or coming in with six guys for five spots, whatever it is, I’m just trying to show the best stuff that I can and see where it takes me.”
There is a calmness to Hughes this spring, and he seems to be taking that attitude from the clubhouse to the mound. Today he made one mistake with a first-pitch cutter that Matt Joyce hit for a home run. Next time he faced Joyce, Hughes threw a changeup for strike three. After the homer, he retired 12 of the last 14 batters he faced.
If there’s a sense of panic — because of last season, because of the rotation competition, because his career seems to be at something of a crossroads — Hughes hasn’t shown it, on the field or off.
“I feel a lot better,” he said. “It’s easier to sleep at night for sure compared to last year. Hearing the velocity issues and knowing that something’s not right. Right now I just feel like I can go out and pitch and not worry about all that stuff. Get my changeup going. Throw my breaking ball. Just worry about pitching and not necessarily throwing the ball as hard as I can to generate velocity.”
Associated Press photo