Phil Hughes will be taking the ball for the Yankees tonight in their series finale against the Minnesota Twins. They’ve already lost two of three to the Twins and will be trying to avoid dropping below .500. Hughes will be opposed by RHP Anthny Swarzak. Here is my story on Hughes that ran in today’s copy of The Journal News:
By Vincent Z. Mercogliano
NEW YORK — With Andy Pettitte looking sharp through two minor league starts as he works his way back to the majors and Michael Pineda throwing his first bullpen session on Monday since going on the disabled list, it’s no secret that the Phil Hughes – and others – are currently auditioning to keep their jobs.
“I think they’re probably all going to think about it, but they all thought about it in spring training, and it worked out pretty well,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Maybe it’s a good thing that people are getting closer and coming back. But I don’t want to make too much of two starts, or one start. The one thing that they need to understand – and I think they do – is that you just have to take care of your own business.”
After putting up better numbers than any other Yankees starter in spring training, the right-hander has an ERA of 9.00 with two losses in two starts. He’ll take the ball again today in the final game of a four-game set with the Minnesota Twins.
“It’s tough,” Hughes said. “I felt good with my stuff when we broke camp, but things haven’t gone the way I would have liked.”
Hughes failed to make it out of the fifth inning in his first start against the Tampa Bay Rays, and then couldn’t get through the fourth on Saturday against the Los Angeles Angels. He’s averaging more than a strikeout per inning, but has struggled with high pitch counts.
“He’s gotten into some longer counts, No. 1, and hasn’t been able to put hitters away,” Girardi said. “No. 2, he’s made some mistakes up. He’s gotten plenty of strikeouts up, but he’s also made plenty of mistakes up. There’s a fine line when you pitch up there. If you don’t get it high enough, a lot of the time it’s going to be hit hard. When he chooses to go up in the zone for strikeouts, he’s got to make sure he gets it there.”
At 25 years old, Hughes is still a young man, but this will already be his sixth season in the majors. The Yankees selected him in the first round of the 2004 draft, and he was quickly touted as the top pitching prospect in the organization. Entering spring training in 2007, Hughes had amassed a minor league record of 21-7 with a 2.13 ERA in 237 1/3 innings, averaging 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
After being called up in late April of 2007, Hughes’ career has been a roller coaster ride filled with glimpses of his potential and unusual setbacks.
“Just about as well as I could, I think,” Hughes said when asked about how he’s handled the ups and downs. “Try to keep a good attitude and keep working hard, and I know that things will hopefully turn around.”
After injury-filled seasons in 2007 and 2008, Hughes became a dominant force in the Yankees bullpen in 2009 and was a key component on the team’s championship run. He was converted back to a starter in 2010 and won 18 games, but 2011 was marred with velocity and arm fatigue issues.
He seems to have regained some of that velocity in 2012, but the results have not been favorable. With Yankees rotation soon-to-be overcrowded, Hughes’ chances to get his once promising career back on track are running out.
“I just have to make better pitches,” he said. “I get around that high pitch count by executing good pitches in the right situations.”
Associated Press photo