Great stuff from Joel Sherman today on Phil Hughes -
Do you want the bad news or the worse news?
Do you want to hear that Phil Hughes lacked velocity or that he compounded it by being unable to locate?
Or do you want the really, really, really troubling news? That this has been going on for weeks. That pitching coach Larry Rothschild and Hughes already have tried a bunch of remedies throughout spring training and — as of this moment — have unearthed neither a reason why the righty has lost fastball life nor a way to solve the deficiency.
Hughes thinks his arm swing is too long. Rothschild says that maybe more long tossing will provide a solution. Joe Girardi talks still about Hughes needing to build arm strength when we just finished that little thing called spring training which — above all else — is stretched to six weeks so pitchers can build arm strength.
“It’s a little disconcerting, right now,” Hughes said.
Of course it is because of the really, really, really troubling news: Hughes is not a fifth starter anymore, like at this time last year. Yes, A.J. Burnett pitched in the second slot, but in a sodium- pentothal moments Yankees offi cials would reveal it is Hughes they imagine falling in as the No. 2 man behind CC Sabathia.
Instead, Hughes has emerged as the early No. 1 rotation head ache, wresting the crown from the reigning champ: Burnett.
“This is going to be a concern until you see [velocity],” Rothschild said. “When you get going and start to see velocity, you can relax a little.”
Suffice it to say, this is no relaxation moment for the Yankees. Hughes was terrible yesterday in a 10-7 Tigers victory; running scared from a fastball he rightfully had no faith in.
He threw 40 fastballs in all — and never got a swing and miss on a single one. He hit 91 mph five times in the first inning, and then never again. He pitched mainly at 87-89 and admitted he does not locate well enough to excel at that speed. Translation: He is going to pay for more mistakes at that speed than at 91-94 mph.
It’s amazing, but, we’ve been talking about the lack of speed on Hughes fastball, on and off, since 2007. Seriously, do a search on this blog with the terms “Hughes MPH” and you’ll see it.
Actually, I just came across this – something I wrote back on April 3, 2008:
In the first inning, the YES gun had Hughes at 91 MPH with his fastball. (For what it’s worth, Gameday had him at 90 MPH in the first.) And, through the fifth inning, I was still seeing 91 MPH on the heater for Phil. (Most of the time it was 91 MPH. Sometimes it was 90 MPH and other times it was 89 MPH. But, again, most of the time it was 91 MPH.)
So, what happened to the theory that it was his leg that caused Hughes to lose four MPH on his fastball? He’s as healthy as a horse now, and, still, we’re seeing 91 MPH.
Sure, some probably want to scream “It’s the slow YES gun!” Well, through the first five innings, the same YES gun had Toronto’s Dustin McGowan around 94 MPH with his fastball. And, the YES gun had Brian Bruney throwing around 95 MPH and Joba Chamberlain in the mid-to-high 90′s. If the YES gun is slow, then McGowan, Bruney and Chamberlain were all throwing 100 MPH – which I cannot believe is true.
Now, at this point, Phil Hughes featuring a 91 MPH fastball is no big deal. With his curve, as long as he has command of the fastball, he’ll be fine – as he was this evening.
Where this becomes an issue is the year 2018. If Hughes is throwing 91 MPH as a 21-year old, he’s not going to gain speed as he gets older. It doesn’t work that way. Give him about 2,000 big league innings and he will lose four MPH on his fastball (at the least). And, then, Phil Hughes will be a 31-year old pitcher who features a fastball that’s in the range of 89 to 87 MPH. And, that’s not good.
Looks like 2018 has come seven years early, huh?
Actually, Paul LoDuca, of all people, on FOX Sports Extra last night had an interesting theory. He said that guys, like Hughes, who throw cutters and curves too much just fry their elbows. (Aaron Sele, anyone?) And, that’s why his velo is down – he’s cooked. (LoDuca did add that Mo Rivera was an exception because of his delivery and the fact that he only throws a natural cutter – and his elbow is spared the stress that someone like Hughes has…between the big bending curve and the forced cutter.)
If it’s true that “Phranchise Phil” is toast, that’s bad news for the Yankees rotation this season. Of that, most would agree.