It was the fastball to J.J. Hardy that disappointed Phil Hughes tonight. The Chris Davis homer wasn’t a terrible pitch, he said, and the last run he allowed scored while he was sitting in the dugout, but Hughes needed that fastball to Hardy to go a little more inside. If it stayed on the plate, it needed to be on the black. It wound up in the seats.
Thing is, pitchers are almost always kicking themselves about one pitch that got away. For Hughes, picking out one bad pitch was considerable progress.
“I thought it was the best stuff I’ve had all year,” he said. “I take that for what it is. Obviously a loss is a loss, and I need to get better, but I feel like if I can take that stuff out, I can win some ballgames. I have to improve on some things, but I felt like there were some positives in there.”
Hughes wasn’t happy about the walk that led up to the Hardy home run, and he would have liked to have worked deeper into the game, but it was hard to deny that this was a step in the right direction. His velocity was a little bit higher, he had a little easier time putting away hitters, and Joe Girardi thought Hughes’ fastball command was better.
Leading into this start, Hughes actively focused on “just (holding) the gas pedal down as long as I could physically do it.” He called it a reliever’s mentality. Truthfully, it reminded me of the way he pitched in the minor leagues. He was aggressive with his fastball, used his curveball when he was ahead in the count and mixed in only a handful of changeups and cutters.
“I felt like I was getting beat too much with my cutter and my changeup,” he said. “Not like it’s something that I’m never going to throw them again. It’s just in those tight situations, I really want to go to No. 1 and No. 2 and that’s it. … I feel like my fastball is a better pitch than a cutter in most situations, and my curveball is a pretty good pitch still. I want to establish those two things and then obviously when I go deeper into games and have to see guys three or four times back around I can mix in other things, but I just wanted to set that mentality up early.”
Six strikeouts, one walk and four hits suggest the approach worked. It certainly worked better than any of Hughes’ previous starts this season, but it wasn’t enough to win the game, and the question is, was it enough to earn Hughes a little bit of job security moving forward.
“Obviously (Andy Pettitte)’s getting to the point where he’s going to be ready go, and I have to pull my weight around here,” Hughes said. “That’s the bottom line. I try not to worry about other people or other situations. I just try to worry about what I need to do to contribute and stay with this team.”
• Granderson hit his team-leading ninth home run of the season. It hit off the ribbon board just below the seats in the upper deck. Granderson has homered in three of his past four games and seven times in his past nine games at Yankee Stadium. He’s reached base safely in 22 straight games after going hitless on Opening Day. According to Elias, that’s the longest current on-base streak in the American League.
• Eduardo Nunez made a nice running catch in the gap tonight, but he also terribly misplayed a routine fly ball toward the line. It was hit by a left-handed hitter, and Nunez wasn’t ready for it to die and slice as much as it did. “You do your best,” Nunez said. “I’ve done my best. I’m not afraid to make a mistake playing the game. I’m just waiting for another one.”
• Girardi on Nunez’s error: “He got a good jump on it. I think he thought it was going to go farther than it did. It’s a tough read for a guy that hasn’t been out there a long time when a lefthander kind of slices the ball. He made the real good play in the gap early in the game, but I think he thought it was going to go further than it did.”
• Girardi said he had no problem with Rodriguez reaching on a bunt single in the sixth. Rodriguez was left stranded, but Girardi felt that the Yankees needed baserunners at that point, and it was worth giving up Rodriguez’s power to put a guy on base. “Whatever it takes to win, you’re going to try to do,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously we’re down five, I’m leading off the inning. I saw Betemit back, I had a chance to get on base, and I took it.”
• The bigger problem was Rodriguez popping out with the bases loaded in his next at-bat. The Yankees were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position and left nine stranded.
• Chris Davis was 4-for-5 with two extra-base hits in his career against Boone Logan, and before tonight’s home run he was 0-for-6 against Hughes. Even so, Girardi brought in Logan to face Davis in the sixth. Davis singled, helping open that three-run inning. “Boone’s a different guy than when he’s seen Davis in the past,” Girardi explained. “We just thought that Hughesy was getting near the end of his rope, and we had a dangerous hitter up. It just didn’t work out. We wanted Boone against Davis and Betemit, so that’s how we were looking at it.”
• Brian Matusz hadn’t won a game since June 6 of last year. “I thought he mixed his pitches really well,” Girardi said. “His offspeed was really effective on us. Whether it was his slider, changeup or curveball, he kept people off-balance and was able to get in on guys where they weren’t able to get extended because of the changing of the speeds.”
• D.J. Mitchell made his big league debut with a scoreless ninth inning. He struck out his first batter, then got some help from questionable baserunning to get out of the inning.
• It’s not the Yankees, but it’s worth noting that Rays prospect Tim Beckham has been suspended 50 games for his second violation of baseball’s drug program. Beckham was the top overall draft pick in 2008, but he’s never come close to living up to his early promise. He remains one of the biggest minor league names suspended in recent years.
Associated Press photos