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From Marc Carig:
Two years ago, Phil Hughes was thrust into the Yankees rotation ahead of schedule.
At the time, Hughes threw only two pitches with ultimate confidence, and his precision with them was questionable. To that point, his big league experience consisted of a stint the year before that lasted all of 13 games and ended with an injury.
Yet with the Yankees short on pitching, Hughes — the self-described scared kid from Double-A Trenton — was asked to hold the beasts of the American League East at bay……
In 2009, Hughes added a cutter to complement his fastball and curveball. This season, he added a changeup. His progress in adding the pitch pushed him over the top in the fifth-starter competition.
“He wanted to get better,” Eiland said. “He knew he had to do that, he bought into the fact that if he wanted to start in this division, this league, on this team, he’s going to have to do that. He did it, and it came quick. It’s an effective pitch and a part of his arsenal.”
Said Hughes: “I have a lot more weapons now. I can go out there and I’m not as predictable. It’s not like they can really set in on one pitch.”
The idea that Hughes is adding a new pitch is not entirely accurate. Phil threw a change 5.3% of the time in 2008, and actually featured a slider for 9.4% of his pitches as well. He ditched the slider and change for the cutter last year and saw positive results, and is now attempting to rediscover and hone a changeup that needed a lot of work. The change was 3.82 runs below average per 100 changeups in 2008, and has been 2.27 runs below average per 100 thrown for his career. If it is simply the same pitch that he was throwing in 2008, it is unlikely to do much for him and will likely fall into disuse at some point.
From the brief look that we got in spring training and from the raves of the coaching staff, it does seem like he has improved the pitch to the point where it can be used as an effective part of his arsenal. With a number of powerful lefthanders in the lineup for the Angels tonight, it should be interesting to see how Phil uses the change and whether he has the confidence to throw it in a big spot.
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