Joe Girardi’s decision to walk David Ortiz and pitch to Mike Napoli was based on pretty standard baseball logic. It setup a right-on-right matchup. It setup a potential double play. It gave the Yankees a force out at the plate. And it gave Hughes a matchup against the guy who leads all of baseball with 80 strikeouts.
“To me, you’re looking for a strikeout in that situation, and Napoli has struck out a lot more,” Girardi said. “… I don’t want to start putting people on base, but you’re looking at trying to shut down an inning, and that’s the bottom line. When you get in that situation, I’m going to do what I think is the best thing to do, and I thought the best thing to do was to try and get Napoli. It didn’t work.”
Hughes went ahead 0-2. Then Napoli fouled off a pitch. Then Hughes threw two balls out of the zone. Then Napoli hit a 94 mph fastball for a grand slam to right-center field. Fitting of Hughes’ hit-or-miss nature, he struck out the batter before the intentional walk and struck out the two batters after the grand slam.
“I feel like if I can find a way to get Napoli out there, that’s really a momentum shifter,” Hughes said. “… Just (wanted the pitch) more down and away. It was in a spot that he could handle. He saw a lot of fastballs. It was just one of those things. Got more of the plate than I wanted.”
Intentionally loading the bases is not an unheard of risk, but it’s always a bit of a gamble. With Hughes, though, risk-reward situations seem to take on an unusual extreme. The Yankees have seen him pitch well — his previous two starts, for example — but they’ve also seen plenty of innings like tonight’s third get out of hand and change an entire game. Less than a month ago, Hughes’ ERA was 3.60. Today it ballooned back to 5.37, a sign of his ongoing inconsistency from night to night, and occasionally from pitch to pitch.
“We need him to pitch well, that’s the bottom line,” Girardi said. “We need him to be more consistent.”
The Yankees have been saying that for a few years now, and as another writer said to me in the postgame clubhouse, Hughes has been saying the same things for a few years now as well. It’s not really Hughes’ fault — the repetitive comments, I mean — because the conversations always center on the same topics: Hughes throws a lot of fastballs, he gives up a lot of home runs, and in his seventh big league season, his career is still defined by inconsistency. What else is there to say?
Starts like tonight don’t always happen. But they aren’t unusual either.
“You always want to put a bunch of good starts together from your rotation,” Hughes said. “These are big games against the Red Sox and you’d like to follow up CC with a quality start. It hurts. Anytime you don’t pitch well, it stings, but in a spot where we’d really like to turn things around it hurts a little bit more.”
• Kind of a weird situation with Chris Stewart, who was pulled from tonight’s game because of dehydration. He said he felt light-headed during pregame stretch, but he thought he could play through it. Eventually, he couldn’t. “My body was just weak,” he said, still sounding a little groggy. “I’ve never had that feeling out there before.”
• Stewart said the Yankees performed a series of tests to make sure there’s nothing seriously wrong, but ultimately just filled him with fluids. He’s hoping to play tomorrow. “He checked out OK,” Girardi said. “I think he feels better now.”
• Vernon Wells went 0-for-4 and now has three hits in his past 34 at-bats. He has no walks and six strikeouts in that span. His slash line is down to .253/.300/.439. “He’ll come out of it,” Girardi said. “I’m not concerned about that. I think Vernon’s going to come out of it. He swung the bat pretty good last night, but I think he’s going to come out of it.”
• Better news on David Adams, who snapped an 0-for-14 streak with a fourth-inning single. He had another hit in the sixth and how has 15 hits in his first 16 games. He’s one of four Yankees since 2000 to have at least 15 hits in his first 16 games, joining Hideki Matsui (who had 20), Jesus Montero (20) and Robinson Cano (18).
• Before Stewart was pulled, he had the Yankees only RBI on a fourth-inning sacrifice fly. This was the fourth time in six games that the Yankees scored only one run.
• Adam Warren had his worst outing of the season, allowing six runs through three innings. He’s allowed nine runs in his past two outings, a pair of bad appearances after 13.2 scoreless innings in his previous five games. His ERA has jumped to 3.77. It was 2.10 when the night started.
• Preston Claiborne has still not walked a batter through 16.1 innings. Since 1916, he’s the first Yankees pitcher to not allow a walk through his first 11 Major League outings coming as a reliever only. “He’s been really good,” Girardi said. “Every situation we’ve put him in he’s been really good and he’s thrown strikes and he’s thrown strikes with three different pitches. His velocity has been good, his location has been good. He’s just got the job done.”
• As a whole, the Yankees pitching staff allowed 18 hits, their most in a game since June 29, 2012 in Chicago. It was the most hits the Yankees had allowed against the Red Sox since May 28, 2005 (a 17-1 loss at the original Yankee Stadium). … The 10-run margin of defeat made this the Yankees worst loss to the Red Sox at the current Yankee Stadium. Last time they lost by more against the Red Sox in New York came on May 9, 2006.
• Final word from Girardi on Hughes: “He had a hard time putting some guys away. He was getting ahead of them, but he couldn’t put them away. … It seems like when the at-bats get long it gets harder because they see everything. And when you get ahead 0-2, you want to try to put them away right away. You don’t want it to be four, five, six more pitches because then you see everything, and those were the ones he struggled with.”
Associated Press photos