When Phil Hughes was climbing into upper levels of the minor leagues, there was a lot of talk about his big curveball. As he got into the big leagues, he couldn’t make a spring training start without discussing his changeup. Last year, when he developed a slider/cutter hybrid, that pitch became the new buzz-worthy offspeed weapon.
But at his core, Hughes has always been a fastball pitcher.
“That’s his game,” Chris Stewart said. “He’s going to attack with his fastball. Sometimes it’s moving across the plane. Sometimes it’s just up and exploding. That’s why, when he’s in the zone with it, it’s really tough to hit because they don’t know which one they’re going to get.”
There was no real secret to Hughes best start of the season. He was simply throwing a lot of fastballs, locating them in the strike zone, and using offspeed pitches to effectively keep hitters off balance. And Hughes can be awfully good when he does that. In his past four starts, Hughes has a 1.93 ERA with 30 strikeouts, five walks and two home runs in 28 innings. He’s been every bit as good as the Yankees top three starters.
“When I’m getting ahead of guys it makes it a lot easier to do what I want to do during the course of the at-bat,” Hughes said. “I was aggressive with my fastball again, I was able to get ahead and for the most part did what I wanted to do. … I feel like I’m kind of clicking right now with what I’m trying to do. I feel like I’m executing pitches at a better rate than I did early on. As long as I can hit the glove and stay there, and maintain my velocity and strength late in the game, then I feel like I’ll be pretty good. I just have to continue that trend.”
The video above is Joe Girardi talking about Hughes’ outing, but for the most part, the results speak for themselves. As he’s said all year, Hughes said once again that he felt fully prepared when the Yankees rushed him off the disabled list on April 6, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that he lasted a total of seven innings in his first two starts and has averaged seven innings in his four starts since. He’s been awfully good, and he finished off today’s start by retiring his final 10 batters.
“He’s always got something,” Stewart said. “His fastball’s his best pitch, and it’s pretty good. You know that going in out of the bullpen. You know he’s throwing well down there, and you know he’s going to take that into the game.”
• Robinson Cano’s sixth-inning double was the 344th of his career, moving him into a tie with Mickey Mantle for eighth place on the Yankees all-time doubles list. Cano’s, what, halfway through his career?
• The Yankees early offense came on solo home runs from Stewart and Lyle Overbay. It was Overbay’s third homer in the past six games. He had two homers in 65 games last season. The home run was Stewart’s second of the season. He’s hitting .275. “Obviously I’m not going to go up and try to hit a home run every time,” Stewart said. “It’s not going to work out too well if I do that.”
• Stewart is halfway to doubling his career home run total this season. He had one last year and three the year before that.
• Both Overbay and Stewart said basically the same thing about facing Bartolo Colon: You know he’s going to throw strikes, so look for one that’s left up the zone and be ready to pounce. “Hopefully he’ll make a mistake and you have to be ready for it if it’s pitch one or pitch 10,” Overbay said. “You know he’s going to be around the plate, so you don’t necessarily have to go after that first fastball. You know he’s going to come back with it. It’s just a matter of getting it up in the zone and taking advantage.”
• One observation from Overbay: “(Hughes) was just being aggressive with that fastball. A lot of guys, the little that they got on, there were a couple that were mentioning that it was probably had a little more zip on it. It’s good to see. Everything else works off of that.”
• There’s an off day Monday, so it was a little easier for Girardi to use Mariano Rivera today. Girardi said he was committed to bringing Rivera into the ninth if someone got on base early. “I wasn’t going to mess around,” Girardi said.
• Rivera made his 1,064th appearance, tying Dan Plesac for sixth place on baseball’s all-time list.
• Jayson Nix took ground balls at first base before today’s game. He said he hasn’t played first base since high school, but he wants to learn the position just in case the Yankees need someone behind Overbay. “I think just the footwork (is the hardest thing),” Nix said. “That’s the name of the game in playing the infield, period. Moving from short to third to second like I do, that’s probably the biggest thing, the footwork. It’s the same thing going over there.”
• Final word will go to Girardi, who was asked if this game was about as clean as the Yankees can possibly play. “I don’t think Phil walked too many guys. He threw a lot of strikes. We played good defense behind him. Our execution was pretty good, and when we had opportunities to score, we scored. I thought our guys did a good job.”
Associated Press photos