Every day’s a good day when the Yankees win. This mantra proves especially true when those wins come during the postseason. After hearing John Sterling’s patented victory exclamation twice this week, I’m certainly ready for one more on Saturday.
However, tonight’s game is pivotal for both teams. The Twins have been battered. They’re cornered; and make no mistake, they’re desperate. The Bombers can eliminate the Twins with one swift jab to the throat and this responsibility has been placed on Phil Hughes‘ young shoulders, in the first postseason start of his career.
Here are Hughes’ stats against the Twins. Listed below are the keys to success for the youngster.
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Stop allowing souvenirs. Of Hughes’ 25 home runs surrendered, 20 of them have occurred in NY. Of the 25 home runs, 17 have been courtesy of left-handed batters. 14 of the 25 HR have happened during the second half of the season as batters cumulatively hit .250/.317/.431 (compared with .239/.291/.377 in the first half). 14 of the HR have also been allowed with men on base. Long story short, quit it Phil.
Variety is good. Over the course of the 2010 season, Phil has depended on the fastball 57.5% of the time. He utilizes the cut fastball 18.1%, curveball 16.6%, two-seam fastball 5.1%, and the changeup 2.7%. Just as the table below indicates, Phil has been able to provoke whiffs most readily with the cut fastball. However, it also happens to be the pitch that is most often put in play.
Each type of fastball also has the tendency to be fouled off quite a bit. The net effect is that Hughes manages an 0-2 count with relative efficiency but then ends up experiencing extended at bats as hitters foul off pitch after pitch. Guys like Denard Span become absolute menaces because they can work the count and then become threats immediately upon arriving at first base.
In other words, keep the pitch selection fresh, Jorge/Phil. It’s imperative that Hughes does not become predictable or reliant with one pitch — especially as he has a tendency to use his cut fastball as his out pitch. I certainly wouldn’t be opposed to him throwing a few changeups into the mix to simply keep the hitters honest.
Amplify appropriately It’s the playoffs, and Hughes (for all intents and purposes) is still an infant in terms of experience. I expect him to be amped up given the magnitude of the game. However, like most pitchers who don’t pitch on their preferred cycle, pitch command can become a challenge. In 2010, in games started on 6-plus days’ rest, Hughes has pitched to a line of 8.04 ERA/2.043 WHIP/4 HR, and batters have hit .367 BA/.451 OBP/.650 SLG/1.101 OPS/.391 BABIB. While this is a small sample size, it’s still a fair point given the circumstances. I would be delighted to see Phil find the strike zone and settle in quickly. Otherwise, Girardi will probably pull the plug fairly quickly if it appears he’s laboring through the first few innings.
Moreover, the extended rest may impact his velocity. Here’s a graph of his typical trend.
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