Note to Phil Hughes: Stop Worrying About Your Potential
Lost amidst the Curtis Granderson three-homer fireworks and the media aftermath last night was the fact that Phil Hughes actually won a ball game. It didn't look pretty on paper. The Yankees won 7-6 and needed the Holy Trio - Rafael Soriano, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera - to preserve the win and prevent what could have been a near-shocking humiliation: losing 3 of 4 at home to the Minnesota Twins.
So, I guess, Phil Hughes is something of a hero. The line wasn't great - 5.1 innings, 6 hits, 6 runs, 2 walks, and 4 Ks - but it wasn't terrible, especially since only two of the runs were earned. The problem is that it took him 104 pitches to deliver 16 outs. Still, compared to Hughes' 0-2, 9.00 ERA going into his third outing, it was nearly Clemens-esque.
That's what people said about Phil Hughes when he first started pitching for the Yankees - that he reminded everyone of The Rocket in height, mechanics, and delivery. When I first wrote about him for the Village Voice back in 2008, I quoted one of the Yankees coaches calling him "the Pocket Rocket."
But it's been one physical problem after another for Hughes, and though he was a combined 26-11 in 36 starts in 2009-10, things have just seemed to be keep going wrong. Last year he was just 5-5 with an ERA of 5.79 and was terrible in nearly every way, giving up 84 hits and walking 27 in just 74 innings.
Every time he walks up to the mound, everyone says this is his last chance, and at this point he probably believes it.
"I feel like my stuff is pretty good," he said after his last start against the Angels. "I just wasn't locating."
That sounds like the typical losing pitcher non-statement, but he may be right.
Here's an odd stat picked up by Connor Orr of the Newark Star-Ledger: in his first two games, Clemens used up 183 pitches to get just 24 outs. But here's the truly amazing fact: Hughes' fastball, which was missing in action most of last year, was hopping at around 94 mph against the Angels and was consistently above that last night. I mean, if you've got pop on your fastball and a sharp break on your curve - and 5 of Hughes' 6 strikeouts against the Twins came on curve balls - how far off can you be?
Hughes is only 26 and still has remarkable talent. Bear Bryant used to say, "Don't ever give up on talent," meaning that a coach or manager needs to find a way to work with temperamental athletes with attitude problems. But Hughes' problems aren't mental, they're physical, and maybe Yankee patience - and by that I don't just mean Joe Girardi and the coaches but Yankee fans, who boo Hughes incessantly as if he wasn't putting out - can pay off big time in this instance.
It may take a few more starts, but Hughes' mechanics, his location, and his stuff is getting better. He may never be the second coming of Roger Clemens, but right now wouldn't we all settle for a hard-throwing right-hander who can win - oh - 15 or 16 games?
After he lost to the Angels last week, Hughes said at the postgame press conference, "I'm seeking help from anyone willing to offer advice."
Okay, I wouldn't offer this unless you asked, but here's what I'd to if I were you, Phil: One's a fastball, two's a curve, and every now and then hit 'em with a change. Stick with the meat and potatoes, the pitches you have best control of. Let the slider and the other stuff go until you have more confidence with it, and throw strikes. Oh, and one more thing: stop reading writers like me on the potential you once had. Just focus on the next game. I've got a feeling you're going to do fine.
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