[image title="Hughes in Boston" size="full" id="17502" align="center" linkto="full" ]
So, about last night. Let’s see, Nick Johnson went down with a wrist injury. Josh Beckett beaned Robinson Cano and Derek Jeter and brushed back Francisco Cervelli two separate times. Alex Rodriguez and CC Sabathia both screamed at Beckett from the dugout, and then Sabathia called out Dallas Braden in his postgame interview. Somewhere in the midst of all the crazy was Phil Hughes, who pitched a gem. Facing the Red Sox in Boston, Hughes straight dominant. Over 7 innings, Hughes threw 101 pitches, 70 of which were strikes. He allowed seven hits and two earned runs, striking out seven and walking only one. Hughes was also able to keep his head about him in a hostile environment, while Josh Beckett folded like a cheap tent before our eyes.
One of the most fascinating aspects to Hughes’ start was his velocity. According to Brooks Baseball, Hughes threw 60 fastballs, averaging 94.29 mph and maxing out at 96 mph. He complemented his heater by throwing 29 cutters, which averaged 89.70 mph and maxed out at 92 mph. Hughes also threw nine curveballs and one changeup, so he was primarily a two-pitch pitcher, but used the curve to keep batters honest. He even struck out McDonald on a high curve.
As his velocity chart shows, Hughes was strongest in his first 40 pitches and then tired as the game went on. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that he was able to touch 94 mph on his 90th pitch. We’ve all long heard Hughes described as a power pitcher, and saw that he had the capability to dial it up in relief, so it’s exciting to see him doing the same thing in the rotation.
[image title="Hughes velocity" size="full" id="17504" align="center" linkto="full" ]
Of Hughes’ seven strikeouts, my favorite was his fifth inning K of Jason Varitek, he of the C on the jersey. He set Varitek up with a first pitch 95 mph fastball on the outside corner that Varitek took for a strike. He then jammed Varitek on the second pitch with an 89 mph cutter, getting him to swing and miss. At 0-2, Hughes then blew a 94 mph fastball right by Varitek, who chased a ball clearly out of the zone. In short, he made Varitek look like David Ortiz.
[image title="Hughes vs. Varitek" size="full" id="17515" align="center" linkto="full" ]
Hughes’ start to the season could not have gone much better. He’s 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA over 32 innings . He’s struck out 8.72 batters per nine innings and walked 3.66 batters per nine, leaving him with a 2.38 K/BB ratio. Sure, he’s due for some regression. He won’t be able to maintain a .213 BABIP, and his 2.9% HR/FB perentage is due to rise back in line with his career average of 7.3%. Eventually, Hughes’ sub-2.00 ERA will rise and align more closely with his 2.76 FIP and 3.85 xFIP. Even if that does happen, the Yankees’ fifth starter is pitching like a third starter. If Hughes’ plus-velocity and command of his cutter can continue to result in an elite K rate, and if he is able to limit the walks, then 2010 could be a special year. Yankee fans have waited a long time for him to show what he can do in a full season of starts, and so far he is blowing everyone away.
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