In his few major league appearances, left-handed batters have fashioned an OPS of .876 against Phil Hughes (in 220 plate appearances). Reportedly, Hughes has been working on a cutter to address this situation.
And, this makes sense. Left-handed batters can handle a fastball and a curve from right-handed pitchers (which is what Hughes mainly throws). After all, this is why batters learn to switch-hit – so that they can look at the curve from the “opposite” side of the pitcher. Further, for a right-handed pitcher, the cutter is the perfect pitch (when thrown correctly) to attack left-handed batters. (See: Rivera, Mariano.)
So, how’s the cutter coming along? Well, in the Arizona Fall League this off-season, Hughes did an excellent job of not allowing hits to any type of batter (albeit righties or lefties). However, in terms of runs allowed, in the AFL, his ERA against RH-batters was 2.37 whereas his ERA against LH-batters was 4.09. This suggests that, while lefties were not getting many hits against Hughes, they were reaching base and the hits that they did get were producing runs. This also suggests that Hughes’ cutter (in addition to his overall ability to effectively pitch against lefties) still needs some work.
According to the Yankees, Hughes is a candidate for the last spot in their rotation. However, it would be at the back end of the rotation and he must earn it during the spring. According to me, Hughes better show this spring that he can handle left-handed batters. If not, he should start the season at Triple-A and stay there until he proves that he can effectively pitch to all types of batters.