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I spent much of last night doing the Gameday / Audio combination to watch Phil Hughes start against the Oakland Athletics. Assuming that Gameday’s radar gun is accurate, we’re seeing the best fastball velocity that Phil Hughes has thrown since his hamstring injury. He sat at 93-94 for most of the night, and had his best start in the majors ever. For awhile, I had flashbacks to 2006.
It is really easy to forget how good of a prospect Phil Hughes was. He was by many accounts the #1 pitching prospect in the game. He spent his age-20 season cutting through Double-A batters like a hot chainsaw through butter. His playoff-included statistics that season are staggering: 152 innings, 10.77 K/9, 2.07 BB/9, 2.13 ERA. Looking at the trends, he was even more impressive. In his final 10 Double-A starts, Hughes managed a 13.13 K/9, 2.03 BB/9, and 1.29 ERA.
At the time, I wrote the following about Phil’s fastball:
He is capable of throwing 96-97 mph, but prefers to sit comfortably at 93-94 or 94-95 on a good day in order to command it better. That said, he is capable of reaching back and throwing a located fastball at 97 if the situation commands it. He locates his fastball with the best of them. Think Curt Schilling as a comparison for the fastball.
I wasn’t lying. Hughes was a legitimate power/control pitcher back in the day, but had slowly been losing velocity. A lot of people blamed tentativeness and nerves following his big major league injury. Others thought the Yankees were screwing up his mechanics – which had never been better after the summer of 2006. He got some of his mojo back in the bullpen last season, but Hughes the starter spent most of the past 2 seasons sitting at 90-92 mph with his fastball. This forced him to rely on his great curveball a little too much, and batters learned to take it for balls, and wait for the fastball. As a result, Phil’s plus-plus control evaporated, and Phil had trouble getting major league hitters out, and ran up very high pitch counts.
The Phil Hughes of 2006 never ran up high pitch counts. He used to mow down batters so quickly that he would reach his Yankee-imposed five inning limit far too quickly in starts. During his last 6 starts, Hughes pitched 30 innings and allowed just 16 base runners, and never more than 2 hits.
While he’s a slightly different pitcher than he used to be: Phil worked in quite a few cutters in the middle innings last night, and held back the curve a little bit, and still isn’t topping out at the velocity he had in 2006, I think that its important to grapple with the magnitude of what we’re seeing. While its early, we’re catching a glimpse of “#1 starter Phil Hughes” right now, after being so accustomed to watching “#3 starter Phil Hughes” for a few years now. Its hard not to get excited about that.
Its no coincidence that the last time we saw “#1 starter Phil Hughes”, he was removed in the 7th inning while pitching a no hitter.
Photo Credit: Flickr
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