In many respects, it feels like déjà vu all over again. For the second consecutive season, Phil Hughes is facing questions about his effectiveness after some troubling results in his first few starts. But to Hughes and the rest of the Yankees, the issues that are causing him to struggle are much less alarming than they were in 2011.
“I was sort of in a similar situation results-wise, but stuff-wise it’s miles different,” Hughes said. “That’s one thing I can look back on and at least have something to work with. My fastball I feel like is good, it’s just a matter of executing that pitch.”
It’s true, Hughes is no longer facing questions about his lack of velocity. Based on the scoreboard readings, Hughes’ heater was sitting between 91-94 MPH — a far cry from the high 80’s that we saw at this time last season. The questions this time around are focused more on his efficiency and ability to put hitters away early in the count, which has kept him from giving the Yankees any sort of length in his first two starts.
“It’s attacking the zone,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “I don’t really sense in Phil that he’s 2-0 and 3-1 on everybody; I don’t see that. It’s just when he gets ahead he’s missing, or they’re fouling balls off. To me, it’s just consistency in the quality of pitches that he’s throwing that will bring his pitch count down.”
• The puzzling thing about Hughes’ start is that it wouldn’t really be fair to say that he couldn’t put guys away. At times, his fastball showed some late life, and he did finish with six strikeouts in just 3 1/3 innings. But his pitch count had reached 84 by the time he was taken out, and he gave up six runs on eight hits — the biggest one being the three-run homer from Howie Kendrick that knocked him out of the game. “Just too many balls in the middle of the plate,” Hughes said. “I felt like my stuff was pretty good, I just wasn’t locating. I was hitting the glove, but not necessarily in the spot that I wanted to.”
• While I know that many of you are probably ready to have Hughes pulled out of the rotation, I’m pretty confident that he’s going to get a few more starts. David Phelps was very effective in relief of Hughes today, but Girardi pretty much shot down the idea of him becoming a starter. It sounds like he’s going to wait for Andy Pettitte and/or Michael Pineda to be ready before he considers making any changes. To be honest, I don’t think it would be the wisest move to make any decisions before then, either. A lot could change between now and then. “When you look at this kid, he’s been a starter his whole career, and that’s why we brought him as a long man,” Girardi said when asked about moving Phelps into the rotation. “Are we looking for him to make a start? No, but we’re looking for him to do what he did today – give us a chance to come back in games. In the future is he a starter for us? Maybe, but right now that’s not how we’re looking at him.”
• Phelps certainly deserves to be patted on the back for his performance today. He gave the Yankees 5 1/3 innings, allowing only one run on one hit — a solo homer to Vernon Wells in the top of the fifth to make it 7-0. He talked about making the adjustment from being a starter to a reliever. “The biggest thing for me is that I can’t get all four of my pitches ironed out in the bullpen,” he said. “I’ve got to get my two – the fastball and the slider – going. And once the game gets going, try to feel the others out as much as possible.”
• Phelps also spoke about what it was like facing his idol in Albert Pujols. Pujols was 0 for 3 against Phelps. “I’ve been rooting for him pretty much my whole life being from St. Louis, but he’s intimidating,” Phelps said. “You’ve got such a small margin of error, so I just go out there trying to bear down and make my pitches. I was pretty much leaving it in Russell’s hands. I wasn’t going to shake him. Whatever pitch he called, I was going to try and throw it with conviction.”
• While Phelps kept the Yankees in the game and gave them a chance to comeback, they were pitiful with runners in scoring position, going 1 for 11 in those situations. Robinson Cano picked up his first RBI with a single in the bottom of the fifth, but that would be the final Yankee hit of the game. Most of the blame will fall on the Yankees 3-4-5 hitters — Cano, A-Rod and Mark Teixeira — who have combined for just three RBI through eight games. “At times they’ve gone out of the zone for pitches, at times they’ve hit balls hard but foul, at times they’ve run into bad luck, so I think it’s been a little bit of everything,” Girardi said. “But you try not to make too much out of it, what’s this? Our eighth game. It’s a long season. Guys might only have 32 at-bats, and they’re going to have 600.”
• Angels starter C.J. Wilson got through six innings on 105 pitches, allowing one run on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts. He wasn’t overpowering, but he did make good pitches in big spots. One particular situation that comes to mind is when he jammed A-Rod inside and got him to hit a slow roller right after Cano’s RBI single. With him, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, this could shape up to be a premier rotation. “He’s evolved as a pitcher over the last three or four years when he’s had a chance to start,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said of Wilson. “He does have more things that he can do than a lot of guys on our staff and a lot of guys in baseball. He has stuff that’s going to go in on a righty, away from a righty and he can change speeds.”
• Keeping up his reputation as a Yankee-killer, Kendrick went 3 for 5 with a homer and three RBI.
• I’ll be back at Yankee Stadium tomorrow for the rubber game of this three-game set. Thanks for following along today! Hopefully, we’ll have a closer game tomorrow…
Associated Press photos