Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Chien-Ming Who? Hughes Arrives Without Hype, As Advertised

The Yankees were unsure of where their season stood, and even more unsure of what would come of their besieged pitching staff.

Chien-Ming Wang had recently suffered both a mental and physical breakdown in New York, and 19 automatic wins quickly manifested itself as a gaping hole in the rotation.

A mysterious “injury” sent Wang away to the Yankees secret Tampa laboratory, trying to fix what so suddenly and unexpectedly became broken.

A culmination of velocity reduction, arm slot inconsistencies, and a non-sinking sinker forced New York’s hand.

Who could emerge from a barren Minor League landscape to plug the leak of a sinking Yankee ship? A familiar face stepped out from the shadows, ready to rewrite his chapter in the Yankees’ history books.

The “messiah” of the starting staff would have to be Phil Hughes, once believed to be the next great ace of Major League Baseball. Injuries and underperformance shattered his dreams in 2008, and left fans and scouts wondering what had become of the “can’t-miss prospect.”

Still baby-faced and just 22 years of age, Hughes was not ready to let fans forget his polished pedigree. He entered his season debut with a 3-0 record and 1.86 ERA in AAA, and had made some key adjustments to his pitching repertoire.

The fine-tuning was clearly evident in Tuesday’s debut against the Detroit Tigers, as Hughes made a potent and powerful lineup appear more prepared for the Eastern League at AA.

Hughes’ final line included 6 innings, 6 strikeouts, two walks, and just 2 hits allowed. More importantly for the Yankees, he was able to obtain “1 win.” It was a win they desperately needed, and totaled more than Hughes had collected in all of 2008.

A new and precise cutter has been added to Hughes’ arsenal, and helped to minimize one of his biggest weaknesses as a starter in the majors. He was now able to get inside consistently on lefthanders, turning doubles and home runs of years past into ground balls to second base.

Hughes used one of these ground balls to escape his only jam of the day, preserving a 0-0 pitcher’s duel at the time.

The weight of the world—or in this case “Yankees Universe”—was on Hughes’ invaluable right shoulder. He did more than simply deliver; he proved that he belonged in pinstripes for the weeks (and possibly months) to come.

With a sharp curveball and 92-93 MPH fastball, Hughes was a serviceable starter. When adding a pinpoint cutter and developing change-up, there is no telling how high his ceiling can rise.

The Yankees needed a stopper, but more importantly, they needed a sense of hope and serenity. Hughes gave them both, and appeared for the first time to be exactly as advertised.

We had all heard the hype ad nauseam. On Tuesday, however, we finally saw it with our own eyes.


  1. This offseason I had hoped the Yankees signed Burnette and they did. I was actually looking forward to watch Hughes pitch this year and it finally happened as well. If Hughes stays in the rotation this year, the one-two punch of both these two pitchers will be devastating. I'm thinking Joba is realizing that he better get on the ball. Hughes is hungry and wants to stay.

  2. Very good insight, and I agree whole-heartedly about Hughes putting the pressure on Joba. The word is that Joba wants to be a permanent starter, but if Hughes vastly outperforms him until Wang returns, he may not get his wish.

    The Yankees cannot afford to play around, especially if Wang comes back healthy with Hughes dominating. The Yankees could then have Rivera, Joba, Melancon, and maybe a healthy them a strength where they once had a weakness.

  3. Hughes looked so good last night - more in control, less afraid of contact. Very encouraging. I agree that he must be hungry after his last go-round in the bigs. Fingers crossed that he stays healthy.

  4. I think Hughes was pitching with cracked ribs all year last year. He has a good fastball that he can hit both corners with, the best curveball I've seen since Dwight Gooden, and now a cutter. If he can develop a good change up and stay healthy, I wouldn't be surprised to see him win a Cy Young award within the next 5 years.


  5. Thanks a lot for stopping by for the read/comment Jane, and it is always great to hear from you. He really pitched well, but more importantly he stepped up under immense pressure. I hope that this is the first of many positive steps on his road to stardom.

  6. Hey PinstripePride,

    I appreciate the read and the solid insight on Hughes. Hughes' biggest problem was the inability to get movement on his fastball or successfulyl pitch in to lefties, which his cutter has taken care of.

    If he can get consistent depth on his curveball, I agree that he will be a #2 starter within a few years. Essentially, we need Hughes to become Jon Lester in order to regain our AL East/ML throne.


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