Phil Hughes will return to the mound tonight with everyone wondering if his 2012 has finally “turned a corner.” The cliché would appear fleeting in baseball, but ask Joe Girardi and he’ll tell you Hughes already had his season well around the bend.
“He was throwing pretty well before the Anaheim start. He had a poor start and people kind of forgot about those other starts he threw pretty well,” Girardi said. “I think he turned the corner. I think he just had a hiccup against the Angels.”
After a rocky outing in Anaheim, Hughes threw his first career complete game on Sunday in Detroit. He will pitch against the Mets tonight hoping to prove his last outing represented the pitcher he is, not just the one he wants to be.
“It was good. It was good. I try not to really think about them too much,” Hughes said. “I try to build on each start and hopefully that’ll be a good building block for me this year, but I still have to go out and pitch well (tonight).”
The first corner for Hughes was really just a gradual bend. Although he has rarely been dominant outside of Sunday, his season recovered from pretty disastrous depths beginning May 6 in Kansas City. Hughes is 4-1 with a 3.60 ERA and 48 baserunners allowed in 40 innings since then, even with the start in Anaheim included. He continues to be victimized by the long ball, allowing 13 and at least one in every start.
His raw numbers (4-4, 4.96 ERA, 1.35 WHIP) seem slightly worse than what would be expected. All metrics point to him pitching into some bad luck, especially when you factor in a career-worst home-run rate.
Hughes believes the return of Andy Pettitte has provided somewhat of a boost. He leaned on Pettitte Sunday, asking the veteran, along with pitching coach Larry Rothschild, if they saw the need for slight adjustments. He made one during the third and fourth innings, keeping his body on line in order to conceal the ball better. From then, Hughes sailed along.
“I talked to him a lot. He’s a great guy to bounce things off of,” Hughes said of Pettitte. “He watches every inning of every game. He’s always out there for you, giving you an honest opinion if you have questions. It’s been good. I’m obviously not going to keep him out of retirement as long as I play, but while he is here it’s good to have him around.”
Hughes would like to believe that snapshot against the Tigers was actually the real Phil Hughes. He’s yet to pitch like the budding prospect picked to represent the AL in the All-Star Game when he won 18 games in 2010, but he envisions himself as that person, not the starter struggling constantly with inconsistency.
“I’d like to think I’m the more successful one out of the two, but as many highs as there are there are just as many lows,” he said. “I’m trying to be that solid, consistent pitcher for us.”