The two youngest members of the Yankees’ rotation pitched in the last two days, with Phil Hughes going on Sunday, losing to the Rays, and Ivan Nova throwing last night against the O’s, helping to notch the team’s first win of the 2012 season. Hughes looked fantastic at times, but couldn’t make it out of the 5th because of a high pitch count. Nova, on the other hand, pitched deep into the game, scattering 10 hits in 7 innings, allowing 2 runs and zero (!) walks, while striking out 7 Baltimore batters.
Hughes did something in Tampa on Sunday that’s definitely encouraging he threw 15 changeups, something he’s been working on seemingly forever. Per Brooks, they didn’t necessarily land for strikes a lot, but he did get 2 swinging strikes on them and did throw them while behind in the count at times. Sorry for a moment of grandiosity, but this is the pitch that could make or break Phil’s starting pitching career. He threw the changeup more than he threw his curve (11 times). He added 16 cutters to go along with 57 fastballs. The fastball averaged 91.68 MPH and topped out at 93.6. It’s nice to see Phil sitting in the low 90′s again. He worked up in the zone a lot with his fastball, as well as his cutter (though to a lesser extent). Given the speed and movement of each pitch, I wonder if Phil will use the cutter as a de-facto sinker, throwing it low and in to lefties (low and away to righties) to get them to swing at what appears to be a fastball, leading to weak contact and ground balls. This could set the fastball up as an effective swing-and-miss pitch, given the few extra MPH. Hughes will pitch again on Saturday against C.J. Wilson and the new look Angels.
Ivan Nova came out dealing last night, featuring a popping fastball that averaged 93.08 MPH and maxed out at 96 MPH. That sort of fastball velocity from Nova is definitely tantalizing and makes me wonder if he can start to miss some more bats with it. That, along with his improved slider (though the algorithm may’ve misidentified it, so take anything labeled as a curve w/a grain of salt…they could just be sliders at a lower velocity), could help propel his ceiling up a bit higher. If he’s able to keep his ground ball rates steady, while striking out 6-6.5 per nine, he’ll be pretty damn dominant. The 7 strikeouts in 7 innings jumped off the screen at us last night, as that’s not something we’re wholly used to from Nova. Let’s take a look at each strikeout and see what he did. First up, Adam Jones in the second inning. He started Jones off with a curve, and finished him with a slider.
Next, we go to old friend Wilson Betemit, also in the second inning. Here, Nova challenged Betemit with the same pitch three times, and Betemit was not up to the challenge. Nova then fanned Chris Davis, again on a breaking pitch, to end the inning.
Mark Reynolds (shockingly enough) whiffed on a curve low and away for Nova’s next strikeout while Robert Andino was sent back to the bench via fastball. Andino was, again, a strikeout victim in the seventh inning, this time going down on a curveball.
While there are variations, Nova’s strikeout pattern seems clear and simple: set ‘em up with the fastball, and get ‘em swinging at the breaking stuff. Ivan has never been much of a strikeout pitcher, but I’m hoping that last night’s performance is a sign of things to come. Even before spring training, I had doubts about Nova’s ability to repeat 2011′s performance in 2012, but last night definitely gave me a shot of confidence.
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