When Phil Hughes was named the Yankees fifth starter coming out of Spring Training, none of us really knew what to expect. There were some who had unrealistically high expectations for the young pitcher, and others who expected him to struggle and would be more than happy with a decent season. Well, through the begginning of the 2010 season Hughes dominated the majors. Through his first 13 games Hughes put up a 3.17 ERA and averaged close to strikeout per inning, which undoubtedly is the reason he was named an All Star. However, through starts numbers 14 through 17 Hughes has regressed. Since June 29th when he made his 14th start Hughes has put up a 6.85 ERA. Still, I don’t want to make it sound like Hughes’ struggles came out of nowhere. Throughout the season it was clear that hitters were adjusting to him and while he was still putting up good numbers he wasn’t matching his early season production. But, why has Hughes regressed?
Pitch selection? Maybe.
Coming out of Spring Training Hughes received much praise for developing a major league changeup. However, throughout this season we have rarely seen him throw the pitch, in fact out of all his pitches he only has thrown his changeup 1.3% of the time. And the reason for that is simple, he did not need the pitch for the most of the season while he was dominating hitters with his fastball and cutter. However, now that hasn’t quite been getting away with just fastballs he’ll have to mix in more changeups and more curveballs (which he has only thrown 14% of the time this season). Without a doubt the Yankees and Phil Hughes know this. And while Hughes’ outing last night was dreadful he did throw 12 changeups . To contrast that to the rest of his season, as I mentioned above Hughes has thrown his changeup just 1.3% of the time this season, so by throwing 12 changeups last night he threw it about 12% percent of the time in last night start (based on 98 pitches). He also threw 15 curveballs last night. Still, it would be nice to see him throw even more curveballs and changeups. However, Hughes won’t find success right away from throwing off-speed pitches. It will be a while before he develops a feel for them, and that was evident last night because even though he threw 12 changeups he didn’t really have control over them throwing only 4 of them for strikes. Still, Hughes will have to keep throwing curveballs and changeups to get a feel for them.
Hughes rules? Maybe.
As we know, Phil Hughes has an innings limit for this season. To manage this limit the Yankees have and will continue to find him extra rest here and there. However, Hughes may be adversely affected by the extra rest. The two times this season he has pitched on extended rest he has struggled. The first time was on June 29th when he pitched for the first time in 10 days. On that day Hughes allowed 6 earned runs in 5.2 innings to the Seattle Mariners. The second time Hughes pitched on extended rest was last night and he allowed 6 runs in 5.0 innings. Still, while extra rest may be causing Hughes to struggle, there is nothing that can be done except maybe finding a different workout routine between starts. Hughes needs the extra rest every once in a while as his future is much more important than just one year. The Yankees will look to find Hughes more extended rest through August and September but they might have trouble finding it with very few off days. It will be interesting to see how they handle Hughes.
At this point in the season Phil Hughes has thrown 106 innings. He has already surpassed his season highs from 2009 (105.1 innings pitched) and 2008 (69.2 innings pitched) and is about to pass his season high from 2007 (110.1 innings). In 2006, Hughes’ first professional season, he threw 146 innings and is bound to pass that mark eventually this season barring injury. So fatigue could certainly be plaguing Hughes. He is at the point where his body has been used to stopping but this time he will have to go a lot further, and while the way the Yankees are managing him might prevent injury it won’t prevent fatigue.
In my opinion, I wouldn’t worry about Hughes, the issue is out of our hands and if you told me at the beginning of the season he would put up a 3.99 ERA, a 3.87 FIP, and a K/9 of 7.9 through the month of July, I would be ecstatic. Young pitchers struggle, and Hughes is no different. While it is possible that his struggles continue, it is just as possible he reverts to early season form.