Frank Piliere of MLB fanhouse recently did a breakdown of what went wrong with Phil Hughes’ last outing in Texas and why. The Rangers are simply too good a fastball hitting team to rely too heavily on the pitch, and his inability to locate the curve and cutter had them sitting on #1. He writes:
The big issue, however, was that Hughes was unable to locate those pitches. On top of that, the fastball command he had against the Twins was also gone. Working at 93-94 mph with his short arm action, he still had more than enough to miss bats early. But, as the game rolled along the Rangers made the adjustment Hughes had to know they’d eventually make. They began to sit on the fastball early in the count as it was more than evident that Hughes had nothing else to offer them.
The fastball command — or lack of fastball command, in this case — was surprising compared to Hughes’ last outing, but what shouldn’t have come as much of surprise was his lack of feel for the secondary pitches. Looking back at that Division Series outing, Hughes did establish his curveball but never proved he could routinely locate it in any quadrant of the strike zone.
The Rangers’ lineup requires far more than simply showing them a secondary pitch. If you’re going to beat them, much like with the Yankees lineup, you need to locate at least one secondary pitch in the strike zone. Hughes never really came close to doing that in this one, but of course the question is why.
When it comes to his curveball, his command of it has been a recurring problem for Hughes despite his strong 2010 campaign. Sometimes he lacks the extension he needs and begins to push his pitches. You’ll see his fastball command suffer from that and you’ll also see a lot of bouncing curveballs. And, we saw quite a bit of that on Saturday afternoon.
The Rangers (like the Yanks) are simply too good against the fastball to rely too heavily on it. The Cutter is there to keep the lefty batters honest and maybe get a ground ball from a righty here and there. The key is the curveball, and his ability to throw it for strikes early in the count. Once ahead in the count he can expand the zone with the fastball/cutter and use the curve as a swing and miss pitch that he can bury out of the zone. But when behind in the count the hitters lay off the breaking balls and he has to go back to the fastball. That’s where the long layoff between the ALDS and ALCS likely hurt Phil. He couldn’t get the feel for the curve, and the Texas hitters just sat on his fastball early in the count and smacked him around.
But there’s a reason why Hughes had success facing the Rangers prior to his rough Game 2 outing. The Rangers should be a good match up for Phil. It’s an aggressive righty-heavy lineup and Hughes should do well against them. Check out his 2010 platoon splits from BR:
Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR SB CS BB SO SO/BB BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB ROE BAbip tOPS+ sOPS+ vs RHB as RHP 31 343 320 37 81 15 1 8 0 0 19 69 3.63 .253 .292 .381 .674 122 6 0 1 3 1 0 .297 92 89 vs LHB as RHP 31 387 345 42 81 12 0 17 0 0 39 77 1.97 .235 .311 .417 .728 144 5 0 1 2 0 1 .253 107 93
His SO/BB rate is almost double facing righties than lefties, so when he’s on his game he should be mowing them down like he did in the 7 inning no-hitter from 2007. Staying on turn should help his command and feel for the breaking ball. But watch the curve, whether he’s bouncing it, locating it well and or getting strikes from the home plate umpire. That can be the difference between a dominating performance that sends the Yanks to Game 7, or another rough outing that will end their season.
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