This is the part that, from the outside, is almost impossible to understand. Phil Hughes said that his pregame warmup in the bullpen was “probably the best I’ve been all year.” Chris Stewart said the same thing; said Hughes was “throwing the ball where it needed to be in there.” Hughes got the first hitter out on two pitches — the second was 93 mph — and the rest was a bit of a blur.
“It seems to go by pretty quick,” Hughes said. “Everything kind of speeds up. You’re just trying to find something, and next thing you know, you’ve got two outs and seven runs are in. … It’s going to be tough to sleep the next couple of nights, for sure, but if I can just get through that and try and get back to what I was doing a couple of starts ago.”
I mentioned this immediately after the game, but it’s worth repeating: In his four good starts this season, Hughes has a 1.93 ERA with 30 strikeouts. In his four bad starts, he has a 14.17 with seven strikeouts. The four good starts were strung together, one after another. The four bad starts are bookends: Two at the beginning of the season, and now his past two.
“I always feel we’re going to get the good Phil,” Joe Girardi said. “I’m an optimistic guy. Guys are going to have bad starts. Tonight was probably as tough as you’re going to have as a starting pitcher, but Phil’s pitched pretty good for us. He’s part of the reason we are where we are right now.”
Hughes talked about trying to turn the page and get back to where he was just two starts ago. And based on his history, he probably will get back there. And at some point, he’ll get back to this point (or something like it, anyway). He’ll be great for a few starts, then bad for a few. He’ll be terrific during warmups, then he’ll fall apart in the game.
“I guess, if I knew that answer (to becoming more consistent) I would try to avoid these bad starts,” Hughes said. “I think it’s just a matter of going out there and attacking the zone, doing what I do. It’s just, days like today, you’re missing and trying to figure things out in the middle of the inning and it’s just not happening for you. Whether that’s getting my changeup going, my offspeed stuff, just to combat sometimes if I don’t have my best command. Maybe that’s the solution.”
Said Girardi: “I think you can pitch up in the zone, but I think you also have to be able to pitch down in the zone too. I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s just consistency with pitches. I mean, he reeled off four or five really good starts. He made a couple mistakes in Kansas City that they cost him a little bit. Tonight, he just made a lot of mistakes early.”
• Girardi said that, before the ninth inning, he asked Alberto Gonzalez if he would be OK with pitching for a while. Girardi also told Vernon Wells to get his glove because he wasn’t going to let Brett Marshall go much longer. “A shortstop usually has pretty good command of where he’s throwing the baseball all the time,” Girardi said. “So I figured that he’s the guy.”
• By the end of the game, Wells, Gonzalez and Stewart were each playing out of position to give guys a bit of a breather. He also put Curtis Granderson in center to rest Brett Gardner. “Even when I put Stewie at first, I said, ‘Stew, don’t get hurt,’” Girardi said. “‘Don’t do anything silly, just catch the baseball. That’s all I want you to do. Don’t try to do too much.’ That’s what you tell your guys.”
• Strange situation for a player’s major league debut, but that’s what it was for both Marshall and David Adams. “You always want to imagine your debut better, but I got through it and was able to help the team out and not get into the bullpen,” Marshall said.
• Adams got his first big league hit and had to make a few plays near the line at third base, a position that he admitted he’s still learning to play. “Good to get them out of the way, absolutely,” Adams said. “But at this level, those are routine, so I need to make those plays.”
• Adams has the baseball from his first big league hit. “My mom and wife are probably going to fight over it,” he said. “I’ll give them some boxing gloves and see who wins.”
• Totally lost in this one is the performance by Preston Claiborne, who gave the Yankees 2.1 scoreless with one hit. He’s been awfully good since coming up. Have to think he stays and Marshall goes if/when Joba Chamberlain is activated tomorrow.
• The pivotal at-bat was, obviously, the grand slam by Raul Ibanez. It was actually the first grand slam of Hughes’ big league career. “I got ahead of him with a fastball,” Hughes said. “I knew I didn’t have a good fastball, especially the location. The first pitch, I was trying to go away and it was middle-in. The next pitch, I’m just trying to figure out what I can do. Stewy put down a curveball and I felt like it was a good idea. I just left it right over the middle of the plate. That was kind of the big moment in that inning where I felt like if I could get a ground ball or something, it’s two runs and maybe I can figure something out and give us a few innings. That was kind of the killer in that inning.”
• Would Hughes’ outing have been different if he could have gotten through Ibanez? “I think so,” Stewart said. “I think it happens to a lot of guys. They struggle the first inning, come in and settle down and figure out what they were doing out there and make a change. But we couldn’t get him through that.”
• The Yankees had eight hits tonight, which isn’t awful. And they had two homers, which got them on the board. But Hisashi Iwakuma has been terrific this season, and the Yankees never had much hope of a comeback. “I thought we swung the bats pretty decent, but (Iwakuma) was pretty good this year,” Girardi said. “He was good last year for them once they put him in the rotation. He has pitched extremely well. They just kept tacking on runs and that made it more difficult.”
• This was the 11th grand slam of Ibanez’s career. He has three homers in the past two games. He’s hit nine homers in his past 11 games at Yankee Stadium, including the postseason. He became the fourth former Yankee since 2000 to hit a grand slam against the Yankees (also Bobby Abreu, Dioner Navarro and Tony Fernandez).
• Since 1991, Marshall is one of two Yankees to throw as many as 108 pitches in relief, joining Esteban Loaiza who threw 109 in a game against Boston in 2004.
• Stewart has tied a career high with three homers this season. .. Wells is tied for the Yankees team lead with 10 homers. … Gonzalez became the first Yankees position player to pitch in a game since Dewayen Wise last year against the White Sox.
Associated Press photos