Just as it did with Joba Chamberlain last season, the rumblings about Phil Hughes succeeding Mariano Rivera as closer are starting to get louder:
I’ve already gone on record saying that I believe Phil Hughes should be the Yankees’ next closer. What I saw tonight did nothing but confirm that belief.
Hughes picked up his first big-league save with a pair of scoreless innings, looking as dominant as he has for the past six weeks since he moved to the bullpen. The 23-year-old now has a 22-inning scoreless streak, the longest by a Yankees reliever since Mariano Rivera went 23 straight in 2005.
But it wasn’t what Hughes did on the mound that reaffirmed my belief that his future should be as Rivera’s successor. It was his comments after the game that made me positive that this is the perfect guy to fill what will certainly be the biggest empty shoes in baseball history.
You think being the guy to follow Joe Torre was difficult? Torre has never been called the greatest manager of all-time. It’s hard to find anyone that doesn’t call Rivera the greatest closer ever.
Asked if it felt different to get the final three outs – something virtually every pitcher that has ever closed a game for the first time has said – Hughes said it was “no different” than the other innings he’s pitched.
“Just one more inning than I’ve been used to,” Hughes said. “I had a little cushion to work with, which was nice. I was just thinking about the next pitch and trying to execute it. It didn’t really sink in until Robbie threw me the ball.”
The argument against Hughes remaining in the bullpen is not quite as strong as the one made in favor of moving Joba back to the rotation. Unlike Joba, Hughes has a slightly more limited repertoire, and has had a similar issue in terms of staying healthy. However, these concerns are not strong enough to justify keeping Hughes in the pen. He needs to be given every chance to grab a rotation spot next season, as it is the best way to maximize his value. Should he fail in the rotation, he can always be moved to the bullpen later.
What do you think about Hughes and his future?
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