Last night, Phil Hughes didn’t make it out of the third inning. He got to two outs in the inning, but just couldn’t close it out. After striking out a batter to lead off the Texas half of the frame, Mitch Moreland singled. Ian Kinsler then hit a bloop double to right field. Elvis Andrus followed with a weak grounder that was just weak enough to score Moreland from third. Then it fell apart. Hughes hit Josh Hamilton with a pitch, gave up a hard single to Adrian Beltre, then gave up a stinging double to Michael Young. After Hughes hit Nelson Cruz, he was lifted for Clay Rapada. In his four starts this year, Phil Hughes has pitched a grand total of 16 innings. As has been said by broadcaster and fan alike, his velocity is pretty much there, but the location is absolutely gone. With Andy Pettitte scheduled to make at least two more starts in the minors, Hughes has some time, but the clock is ticking. Via LoHud, here’s what Hughes and catcher Russell Martin had to say after the game:
Hughes: “I haven’t really earned the trust to (stay in the game),” he said.
“(Hughes) is guy who has tremendous confidence in his fastball,” Martin said. “For him to be successful, he’s got to locate. A.J. had the same problem every once in a while. He’d get into a hitter’s count — he’s confident in his fastball as well — it’s just when you leave one over the middle of the plate, especially those 3, 4, 5 guys, they’re not going to miss it. They’ve got a tremendous lineup. You’ve got to be able to pitch them tough. You’ve got to be able to pitch them backwards. Even when we tried to pitch them backwards, they were still on it.”
It all starts with fastball location, and Hughes just doesn’t have it right now. Lack of fastball location means a lot of favorable counts for hitters, which means you essentially HAVE to place your fastball poorly if you don’t want to issue a walk. Lack of fastball location means you aren’t going to get any sort of positive results on your breaking ball because, hey, why swing at it? Martin also acknowledged that when he and Hughes did pitch backwards (starting hitters with offspeed pitches and finishing them with the fastball), it didn’t work. Why? It could be because Hughes’s breaking stuff just isn’t there or it could be because his fastball command is so off that hitters are able to square it up, even with two strikes. From what Martin said, we can figure he wants Hughes to STOP throwing his fastball in those counts and wants him to “not give in,” as they say. So far, Hughes hasn’t been able to do that.
Phil Hughes has now thrown 403.1 innings as a starting pitcher. His ERA as a starter is over 5. His FIP is an equally uninspiring 4.5198. Things seem to be getting worse rather than better. The light at the end of the tunnel seems to be coming for Phil, but it’s not the light we all thought it would be. For the second time in as many weeks, I find myself writing a pre-mortem for Phil Hughes. I hate that I’m doing this, but there’s no way around it at this point. Unless something drastically changes over the next two-three weeks, I think it’s safe to say it’s over for Hughes as a starting pitcher. And as I think about this situation, I can’t help but place most of the blame on Hughes himself.
Aside from the bullpen assignment he received in 2009, he’s been put in favorable situations by Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi. He was handed a rotation spot in 2010 thanks to a rigged competition. He won the spot in 2011 by virtue of a strong first half in ’10, despite an awful second half. In 2012, he pitched wonderfully in Spring Training, but has pitched badly so far in the regular season. Injuries have occurred and they take a good portion of the blame, but Hughes, in the last two seasons, has been unable to adjust his pitching style and patterns to be a successful starter. At this point, I’m completely out of ideas as to how to “fix” Phil Hughes. Maybe he’s beyond that point now.
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