By the time he came set, went into his delivery and threw his final pitch of the night, Phil Hughes had already shown his new weapon a few times, but it was perhaps most noticeable when Adeiny Hechavarria went down swinging to end the seventh inning.
Hughes got rid of his cutters earlier this season, and he scrapped his slider years ago, but tonight he used a sort of hybrid pitch to great effect in a game the Yankees badly needed a strong start out of him.
“I was working on a little cutter/slider hybrid deal in the bullpen and I figured this would be a good team to use it against because they have a lot of right-handed bats in that lineup,” Hughes said. “… I was just kind of messing around with it during catch, threw a few at the end of a bullpen one time and it was decent, so I just kind of started to mix it a little more in. In our scouting report meetings before today’s game, (Larry Rothschild) said, ‘Do you feel comfortable going to it if you need to? Not a whole lot obviously, but just something?’ I said, yeah. The first one was a 3-2 to Torrealba that I threw. After that, Russ and I found a few more spots to use it.”
Hughes made it clear that he doesn’t expect this to become a go-to pitch, but it’s something to keep hitters off his fastball in fastball counts. The cutter was supposed to be that pitch, but Hughes kept getting hurt with it.
“I was talking to Alex after the game and he said, a bad cutter is a BP fastball, whereas a bad slider at least does something,” Hughes said. “It’s a little bit offspeed. If I don’t execute the pitch, at least it’s something that’s not close to speed with my fastball. At least it’s maybe doing something. Even if it’s backing up, it’s going down or something like that. So, even if I don’t throw a quality one, the odds of it getting hammered somewhere are a little bit less.”
Hughes guessed he threw his slider/cutter fewer than 10 times in maybe five different at-bats, and he noted that the Blue Jays didn’t have had that pitch in their scouting report, which won’t be the case against the next team he faces. He’s still a fastball pitcher, with a curveball and changeup as his primary offspeed pitches. This just gives him a fourth pitch to mix things up now and then.
“I’ve relied on my fastball a lot more (lately), and certainly me throwing a few cutter/sliders is not going to alter that,” Hughes said. “I still need to make sure I trust my fastball and throw it aggressively. In every fastball count, I don’t want to have to throw this (hybrid) pitch. I still need to be an aggressive guy that throws a lot of fastballs, but Encarnacion’s worn me out the last few of starts and it was just something to show him. I didn’t get any outs against him with it, but it certainly had a few spots in the game tonight.”
• Russell Martin had a good way to describe the way Rafael Soriano pitched tonight. “Looked like there was a little anger,” Martin said. “He took it out the right way. Some guys that get angry kind of lose control but he was in control.” After last night’s letdown, Soriano pitched a perfect ninth inning with two strikeouts. Joe Giradri said Soriano’s stuff was as good as he’s ever seen it.
• Here’s Soriano: “I think tonight be the best day that I’ve had this year. I’ve got to come back tomorrow and do my routine. I’ll let (Girardi) know if I can pitch tomorrow. Maybe I need the day.”
• Dave Robertson and Soriano have each pitched three straight days. Girardi said Robertson is certainly not available tomorrow, but Soriano might be. Depends on how Soriano feels tomorrow. Robertson had never before pitched three straight days with the Yankees.
• Play of the night had to be Robinson Cano’s double play, right? Hughes actually had a rough sixth inning with two walks and two hard-hit balls, but Andruw Jones tracked down the fly ball to right and Cano leaped in the air to snag the line drive. Cano then fired to third base to turn a hard-hit ball into a double play. “Probably one (second baseman who can make that play),” Girardi said. “It’s an incredible play. I thought he had no chance at third, but it’s an incredible play at a crucial time. I wasn’t even sure if he was going to catch it to begin with, and then you get the double play, it’s icing on the cake.”
• Yankees starters are 9-2 with a 2.46 ERA in 13 starts at Yankee Stadium in the month of August, holding opponents to four earned runs or less in each of those starts.
• Hughes had back-to-back rough starts earlier this month, but he’s since lasted seven innings in three straight outings, allowing a total of three earned runs. “Sometimes you can have those bad thoughts going into your work days and then your next start and sometimes it can snowball a little bit,” Hughes said. “Especially after the April that I had, I felt like I really needed to bounce back from that and be able to do that. I think every time I’ve had a rough start, I’ve been able to either back it up with a good one or maybe two starts down the line have a good one. It hasn’t been the ideal year, but I’ve been able to bounce back from a few rough ones, which is all I’m trying to do.”
• That last strikeout in the seventh inning was the 500th strikeout of Hughes’ career.
• Steve Pearce went 0-of-2 with a walk and a run scored in his Yankees debut. “He takes a walk, he advances on a ball in the dirt, Russell does a good job with two strikes of getting him over, and then you get a sac fly,” Girardi said. “It was the little things that those guys did in the middle of the order that helped us win that game. We’re missing some guys that we usually put in against left-handers, Tex and Al, and those are some pretty bats and those are their spots. These guys did a nice job in that role today.”
• According to Elias, Pearce was the first player to hit cleanup in his first game with the Yankees since Glenallen Hill on July 24, 2000.
• Another day, another hit for Nick Swisher who’s now hitting .341 in 20 games since moving into the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Girardi said Swisher would likely remain in the No. 2 spot even after Teixeira and Rodriguez came off the disabled list.
• On the flip side, Andruw Jones is really struggling. “He’s a guy that we know can get really hot against left-handers,” Girardi said. “I think it’s important that we get him going and we’re trying. Andruw’s been through this before where he’s struggled and come out of it in a big way, and I’m hoping it happens. We still expect him to be productive.”
• Pedro Feliciano continued his rehab assignment a third of an inning with Double-A Trenton. It’s the first time he’s pitched on back-to-back days since his rehab started.
• Final word goes to Girardi: “If you’re going to make it to the playoffs and you’re going to make any noise in the playoffs, you have to have (consistent pitching). That’s the bottom line. The teams that pitch the best are usually the teams that are left over in October. Consistency is the important thing. CC had a great start in his comeback. Kuroda has been really consistent. Hughesy’s been consistent. Freddy’s been pretty good and Phelpsy’s done a nice job for us. For us to continue to try to get to where we want to get, we have to have that.”
Associated Press photos