Some thoughts on Phil Hughes, working out of the bullpen, via Peter Abraham today -
Armed with the knowledge that he will be in the game for only an inning or two, [Phil] Hughes is throwing his fastball as hard as he did when he first came to the majors.
“I feel like I have more control, my stuff plays up a little bit,” Hughes said. “It feels like a good fit for me. Who’s to say what the future will be? Maybe this is what I do for the rest of my career.”
That is not what the Yankees hope, however. They see Hughes as a starter down the road – perhaps this season if the need arises. But for now, he has been a welcome addition to a bullpen badly in need of help.
“He is a full-fledged reliever now. I won’t hesitate to bring him in in any situation at this point,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We still consider him a starter, but right now he’s filling a void for us.”
General manager Brian Cashman feels the same way. With 37-year-old Andy Pettitte on a year-to-year basis, Hughes is next in line to join the rotation. But that is an issue for next season.
“I can’t look Mariano Rivera in the face and say, ‘I’ve weakened your bullpen for the future.’ It’s a balancing act and it’s a tough one,” Cashman said. “It’s hard. The short-term goal is you have to win as many games as you can to get into the postseason. If you do that, the next goal comes in line. In Phil’s case, that’s to get some innings. There’s a collision there you have to deal with.”
Girardi said he is open to the idea of using Hughes for multiple innings, a common approach by teams developing young pitchers.
“I’m not hesitant to do that with him. I think he’s very capable of being a two-inning reliever, a three-inning reliever for us,” the manager said. “I won’t do that necessarily to build up his innings, I’ll do it because I believe he can do it and do it well.”
Here’s some up-to-date stats for you…
Phil Hughes, in his big league career, as a starting pitcher:
28 Games, 621 Batters Faced, an Opp BA/OBA/SLG line of .265/.341/.436, and a SO/BB Ratio of 1.90
Phil Hughes, this season with the Yankees, as a relief pitcher:
8 Games, 47 Batters Faced, an Opp BA/OBA/SLG line of .114/.170/.227, and a SO/BB Ratio of 5.33
Granted, the latter is a small sample size. Nonetheless, it looks like, by working out of the pen, Hughes has taken his performance to a higher level.
Now, as the regular readers of this blog are aware, I was never a fan of Phil Hughes the starting pitcher. I thought that his fastball was less than advertised and short. I thought that his tertiary pitch was inconsistent and average at best. And, worse, I thought that his mound presence was a cross between “deer caught in the headlights” and Blane McDonnagh-like pampered prospect posing.
However, again, albeit via a small sample size, I am loving what I am seeing out of Phil Hughes the relief pitcher. He’s letting it all out and throwing high-octane gas. And, working out of the pen, there’s no need to feature a third pitch – his heater and curve are more than enough. Plus, he’s throwing his pitches with conviction – with a look on his mug that says: “OK, go ahead, try and hit this!”
This all said, I think it’s time for the Yankees to start using Phil Hughes exactly how Mariano Rivera was used in 1996. Have Hughes set up for the closer. Make the 8th inning his inning. In fact, just like Rivera was used in ’96, have Hughes pitch the 7th and 8th innings of games, where needed, to get to your closer.
At the least, try it and see how Phil does with it.
The Rivera and Wetteland combo was one huge reason why the Yankees won in 1996. Why not see if the Hughes and Rivera tag-team can do the same for New York in 2009?