Phil Hughes said he was surprised, but not exactly blindsided. He was disappointed, but he understood the decision. He’s going to the bullpen, but he’s not entirely sure what he’ll do there.
“The bullpen’s been great, and I feel like the back end of our bullpen is pretty set up,” Hughes said this afternoon, speaking to the media for the first time since last night’s announcement. “Obviously, I’m not hoping any of our starters has a short start. So if the formula goes to plan, I don’t really see myself in that mix. But obviously winning ballgames is the most important part.”
That’s the extent of this demotion. Hughes has been a very good reliever in the past, but he’s been so inconsistent this season, it’s hard to imagine him jumped ahead of Dave Robertson, Shawn Kelley or perhaps even Preston Claiborne in the bullpen pecking order. Maybe some sort of long relief in a tough spot, but in blowouts there’s more value in seeing Dellin Betances or Cesar Cabral or Brett Marshall.
So Hughes is no longer and starter, and he’s probably not a go-to reliever. He’s just kind of down there, in the bullpen waiting for who knows what.
“I think you look at the situation on a daily basis is what you do,” Joe Girardi said. “Who you have and don’t have, knowing that we’ve seen him do it before. Before we worked him in kind of slowly, but I’ve seen him do it before, so he should have confidence that he can do it. We’ll just see.”
Obviously there would be some hope that Hughes can become the kind of bullpen force he was back in 2009, but that was four years ago, and who knows what kind of reliever Hughes is today? And how are the Yankees going to find out when they have only a few weeks and fairly set pecking order? There will be days when guys aren’t available, and Hughes can maybe step into those holes — that may be his best bet and the Yankees best bet for testing him going forward — but for now, Hughes has no clear role and no obvious future.
“I was looking forward to having a good September in the rotation,” Hughes said. “But obviously that’s not in the plans, so I’ll turn my attention to doing the best job out of the bullpen that I possibly can in whatever role that is. That’s it, that’s all I can do.”
• This is the last game against the White Sox, but it’s hard not to look ahead to the four games against Boston. “I don’t want our guys to look toward the weekend,” Girardi said. “I want to make sure we’re concentrated on today. We had a chance to sweep over the weekend before this and blew a lead. It can happen quickly, so we’ve got to keep the pedal to the metal.”
• Alex Rodriguez is batting sixth today strictly to break up the lefties so that the Yankees don’t have three consecutive left-handed batters.
• Clearly the lineup is a reflection of the White Sox decision to start a right-hander tonight. That’s why Lyle Overbay is back in there, and that’s why Mark Reynolds and Vernon Wells are not. Austin Romine has been catching CC Sabathia quite a bit lately, so he was an expected choice for today.
• Another start for Sabathia, and the Yankees could really use some sort of September resurgence out of him, especially with Hiroki Kuroda showing signs of fatigue. “I’ve seen a lot of good innings,” Girardi said. “It seems that at times it’s one inning that gets away from him a little bit, but I think his sinker has been better, his changeup has been better, his velocity has actually increased a little bit, and I’ve seen some really good innings out of him. We need to see that.”
• Hughes was asked whether he expects this bullpen move to be a one-time thing. “I got the idea that it’d be longer than that,” Hughes said. “But it wasn’t necessarily laid out to me in any way. It sort of felt that way, yeah. … Huff’s been throwing the ball extremely well and I haven’t all year, so I see why they made the decision. It’s disappointing, there’s always kind of the emotion going into it, but at this point, we’re in the middle of a playoff race here and that was the decision they wanted to make.”
• Hughes on what led to this point: “It’s hard to say, really. You go through ups and downs in every season. It just seems like this year in particular there’s been a lot of downs. You go back and think about what you did when you were successful. It’s one thing to think about it, but it’s another thing to actually execute and do it. Obviously I have a game plan every start of what I want to do, and sometimes it’s just that you’re able to execute it and sometimes you’re not able to do that. In my head, I know what I can do to be a successful starter. It’s just that the execution part has not been there consistently this year. That’s just the way it goes.”
• Obligatory question: Was Hughes healthy all year? “Yeah, no issues,” he said. “Which is ironic, my velocity has kind of been better than it has in a while. That’s kind of the disappointing part as well.”
• Perhaps an obvious question, but what does this do to Joba Chamberlain? Does this completely wipe out the opportunity for Chamberlain to pitch more than three or four times the rest of the year? There’s still some value in getting Hughes in some games — like to see if he can be something in this role — but a situation like Sunday night would surely go to Hughes before it goes to Chamberlain, and blowouts are better used for the young guys to prove something than to make sure Chamberlain stays sharp.
Associated Press photos