On a day like this, it’s impossible to ignore the home runs. There were nine of them today, a new record at the new Yankee Stadium. Four were hit off Phil Hughes, who became the first Major League pitcher to give up 19 of them this season. Two-out, two-run homers by Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward were the biggest blows of the day.
But when it was over, Hughes wasn’t focused on how the runs scored, he was more concerned with when they scored.
“Ultimately I think it’s the first inning that’s killing me more than anything,” Hughes said. “Coming out and not making pitches then. It allows myself to get on a little bit of a roll if I can have a solid first inning and go from there. …Bourn looping a ball to left field is not exactly a way you want to start, then you’ve got to go to the stretch and work from there. It’s nice to get a good rhythm going early, and I really couldn’t find that. From there I don’t make a good two-strike pitch to Uggla, and first pitching swinging and Freeman hits a homer. It’s tough when you’re burying the team early like that.”
Hughes is a fly ball pitcher, and when that’s the case, home runs are going to happen. Even when he’s gotten on a roll this season, he’s still allowed at least one home run in every game but one. Every one of his fastballs is a four-seamer — said he never got the feel for a two-seamer in the minors — and when he makes mistakes, those fastballs can go a long way.
“Not my best stuff and then bad location,” he said. “Usually I can pitch OK with one or the other, or if I have both it’s going to be a good day. Today I just didn’t have either.”
At his best, Hughes is aggressive with that four-seamer, but today he just didn’t have it. He said the heat was a non-issue, and no one in the Yankees clubhouse seemed to think balls were carrying more than usual today. The home runs were hit because Hughes made mistakes, and when he let the Braves take a three-run lead in the first — when he had been one strike away from getting out of that inning scoreless — the Yankees were in trouble.
“If I don’t have a good fastball, obviously that’s my bread and butter, and it’s tough to pitch without it sometimes,” Hughes said. “But I still have to try and do a better job. Even if I don’t have a good fastball, locate a little better. Maybe incorporate my changeup a little earlier. I threw some good ones when we were down 5-1, but at that point, it’s kind of a lost cause. In that first inning maybe I can be a little bit smarter and make a couple of better pitches.”
• The Yankees 10-game winning streak has become a two-game losing streak. It’s the first time since May 28-30 that the Yankees have lost two in a row or lost a series. “When we were in the 10-game winning streak, I didn’t think we were going to win 100 in a row,” Joe Girardi said. “I didn’t think that was possibly going to happen. We put these two behind us, we move on and we try to win a series against the Mets.”
• The Yankees were within a run when Alex Rodriguez came up with one out and runners at the corners in the seventh inning. He hit into a double play. “Sinker, pitch selection, a pitcher’s pitch,” Rodriguez said. “You have to get a better pitch to hit there. There’s no sugar-coating; that’s just not an acceptable at-bat right there.”
• More from Rodriguez on that seventh-inning at-bat: “I don’t know if it was anxious. They’ve been working me soft and away all series. I got a pitch in that I felt was going to be a strike, and it was maybe four, five inches off the plate.”
• According to Elias, this was the first time in franchise history that two pitchers allowed at least four home runs in the same game (includes starters and relievers, and includes two pitchers from the same team doing it). Both Hughes and Tommy Hanson gave up four homers today.
• Although it was hot and the ball was flying out of the park, the Yankees seemed to agree that the conditions weren’t the reason for a nine-homer game. “The balls were barreled up,” Russell Martin said. “The reason they hit home runs is that we made mistakes over the middle of the plate and they hit ‘em.”
• The one home run ball that the Yankees seemed to think was not hit particularly well was Rodriguez’s. Both Hughes and Martin specifically mentioned it as one that didn’t look like it was going to get out of the park. “Any time you get a curveball up in the zone and you hit it out to right field, it’s a pretty decent swing,” Rodriguez said. “It was a strike, it was a good swing, and you always judge the process, not the results.”
• Late in the game Girardi asked Mark Teixeira if he could play. Teixeira said he’d be fine, and so Girardi put him in for a pinch-hit double. “It probably wouldn’t have been good for me to play all nine hobbling around like that,” Teixeira said. “But to play one inning and get one at-bat, I can get through it for the end of the game.”
• Teixeira said he has no doubt he’ll be able to play Friday.
• Fastball command was the phrase of the day with Hughes, who had won three straight starts coming into this one and said he felt especially good his last time out in Washington. “The difference between this start and his other starts was pretty much his fastball command,” Martin said. “We tried to throw up-and-in on lefties and it would just run back over the plate.”
• Although Hughes got on a good run while leaving heavily on his fastball these past few weeks, he acknowledged that he’s still trying to find the right balance between fastballs and offspeed pitches. “If I have really good stuff, it’s easy,” he said. “I kind of feel like I know what I want to do and can be aggressive with my fastball. On days like today, where I don’t have good stuff or location, it’s a battle trying to throw my changeup and incorporate my curveball when I can. It just wasn’t there.”
• On the changeup specifically: “Really it just seems like the situations don’t really present themselves as much as they did in the past,” Hughes said. “I’ve gotten hurt on it a couple of times to right-handed hitters, so I’m a little skittish to use it there, but it’s still an effective pitch for me. I just maybe have to find more opportunities to use it.”
• Hughes on the impact of today’s heat: “It’s uncomfortable, but it’s uncomfortable for everybody. I’ve got to do a better job. I’m sure CC would have loved to pitch today. It can be 110 and he’ll be throwing 98. It’s not an issue. The long innings are no fun in the heat, but if I pitch better it’s all fine.”
• The Yankees became the last team in the Majors to allow 10 runs in a game this season. … Derek Jeter hit the 28th leadoff home run of his career, extending his franchise record. He’s one away from his most leadoff home runs in a season (five). … Rodriguez passed Jimmie Foxx for sixth on baseball’s all-time RBI list. … Robinson Cano homered for the third time in four games.
• MLB.com reported today that the Yankees signed 19-year-old Cuban lefty Omar Luis Rodriguez to a minor league contract. The deal is reportedly worth $4-5 million.
Associated Press photos