There will be no ceremony, and it’s hard to expect any sort of farewell ovation, but this is almost certainly the final Yankees start for Phil Hughes. He’s been a first-round pick, one of the game’s top pitching prospects, a very good setup man and a one-time All-Star as a starter. He’s also dealt with a series of injuries, battled a stunning lack of consistency, and pitched so poorly this year that he lost his spot in the rotation.
Now he’s heading toward free agency, and it’s hard to imagine he’d even be pitching in this game if not for all the other Yankees pitching injuries.
“He’s had some good times and some rough times,” Joe Girardi said. “It’s a guy that had a couple big years as a starter, had a big year out of the bullpen. He’s struggled this year. This year has been a struggle for him, and from a personal standpoint, if you’re going to pick a year to struggle as a player, this is not the year to do it. For that, I feel bad for him.”
At this point, it seems inevitable that Hughes’ stint in New York will be remembered as a disappointment. He enters this start with a 4.52 career ERA, a number that’s much worse when compared to the massive expectations that followed him all the way through the minor league system. He was terrific out of the bullpen in 2009, pitched pretty well as a starter in 2010, was unthinkably bad — especially early — in 2011, bounced back pretty well last season, then marched toward free agency with this disappointing finale.
But the inconsistency hasn’t been simply year-to-year, it’s often been month-to-month, week-to-week and start-to-start. It’s easy to forget, but just this season Hughes had a 3.92 ERA during a three-month, 17-start stretch from April 18 to July 23. That’s a pretty significant sample size — and the numbers would be even better if not for a start in the middle when he allowed seven runs in two-thirds of an inning — but it proved unsustainable.
“I know how bad he wants to do well and be successful for this club and this franchise,” Girardi said. “He loves it here. I feel bad for him. He was a big part of our success in 2009. What he did in that bullpen, he secured that bullpen and us getting to the playoffs the next couple years. He had some big years for us.”
Hughes doesn’t strike me as having a personality to get overly caught up in a walk year. He’s pretty laid back by nature, and he was brought up in the Yankees system — with a ton of attention — so he’s well versed in dealing with distractions and focusing on the task at hand. He’s always seemed to tinker, and maybe that’s part of the inconsistency. Maybe the expectations were always out of perspective.
“Sometimes things don’t necessarily have an answer,” Girardi said. “It’s hard to put an answer on something. You’d think coming off last year, he would have just jumped right back in and had the success. But for whatever reason, he didn’t this year.”
• Put this in the file of quirky facts about Mariano Rivera’s final seasons: He said he was actually sitting in the Yankees clubhouse yesterday when he heard someone on TV saying that last night’s fan giveaway — bobbleheads of Rivera himself — had been delayed getting to the stadium, forcing fans to wait in long lines. Rivera, who clearly had nothing to do with the situation, actually went looking for answers so he could understand why people were having to wait.
“There were so many things that happened they couldn’t get them on time,” Rivera said. “Not that they didn’t want to get them on time. There were just so many things. It’s unfortunate so many things happened. Car broke, truck broke, never got here in time. … I saw, they showed a view from the outside (of the stadium), and my God, there were like a thousand people there. Amazing. Amazing.”
• Tomorrow night will be Rivera’s final game at Yankee Stadium. You can count on seeing him at some point. “There’s probably a good chance, yeah,” Girardi said.
• Eduardo Nunez is in the leadoff spot and back at third base, Girardi said, because Nunez has hit pretty well lately — .296 with some power in September — and earned the chance to keep playing. “He’s been playing well, that’s the bottom line,” Girardi said. “So I’ll continue to run him out there.”
• Travis Hafner is activated, but it sounds like Girardi sees him primarily as a pinch hitter. Girardi said he does not plan to change the way he’s used Alex Rodriguez, who’s basically been a full-time DH for the past two weeks. “I don’t plan on changing anything yet,” Girardi said.
• I thought this was kind of surprising: Girardi was asked if there was one particular injury that really took the wind out of the Yankees sails this season: “I think maybe the one that people talk about from an emotion standpoint was how bad that everyone felt when Curtis had his hand broke the second time,” Girardi said. “You could just see the difficulty he was having. We all kind of felt it for him because of what he’s meant to this team and the type of person he is. I think that was hard for all of us.”
• Granderson dismissed the idea that his second injury had any sort of unusual impact. “No, not at all,” he said. “If all of a sudden everything collapsed and we didn’t win another game, then I might say something different. But we played a lot of competitive series over the course of that day, which was the late part of May, I think, up until where we sit right now.”
• Girardi recognizes that the Yankees playoff chances are basically zero at this point — “You still have a shot, but it’s really remote, obviously,” he said — but Girardi still plans to manage to win. He really owes that to every other team during this series against the Rays. I suppose the situation might change when the Yankees get to Houston, but against a contending team like Tampa Bay: “You still go about it the same way and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played,” Girardi said.
Associated Press photos