Any time I read about Phil Hughes doing something baseball-related, I usually get excited. This little tidbit from today's NY Post was no exception to that rule:
"Hughes said when he looks back on last year, he thinks he did not throw his changeup enough early in the year. The development of that pitch was a big story last spring and a reason he won the spot in the rotation. But when the season began, Hughes did not throw the pitch very often because his other pitches were so good. When he tried to go back to the pitch later in the year, he had trouble throwing it.
'I felt like that might have hurt me a little bit, just not having it,' he said. 'Then, maybe when fatigue set in and I really needed that changeup to help me get through these games it just wasn't there.' " (via The Post)
I'm loving everything about that for 2 reasons. One, it once again showcases Phil Hughes' maturity beyond his years. He recognizes the fact that he worked on it a lot in Spring Training 2010 because he knew he was going to need it, he recognizes the fact that he got away from it early in the year because his better pitches were working and he stuck with that, and he recognizes the fact that because he didn't work it early on, it failed him later in the season when he really needed it.
Hughes is acutely aware of his own strengths and weaknesses, before they happen, as they're happening, and looking back on them once they've happened. He knows what he did to be successful last year and he knows what he needs to do to become more successful this year. That may not seem like a huge deal, but to me, when I watch veteran pitchers who have been doing this for 5-10 years talk about how they didn't know what went wrong in a rough outing and then watch a 24-year-old kid with essentially one full year as a starter under his belt talk intelligently about their season as a whole, it's an eye opener.
Second thing that excited me was just the fact that Hughes is already in Tampa, working out and throwing bullpen sessions. That shows me that he's ready to prove that the first half of 2010 was no fluke and the second half of 2010 was not a true representation of how good a pitcher he truly is. Surrounded by question marks in the rotation, Hughes is already putting the work in to step and become a reliable 2nd option behind CC. Dude is younger than me and he's already more mature and dedicated than I could ever hope to be. Love it!
Then, as if that wasn't enough, the always spot-on Chad Jennings of LoHud brings up another interesting point in light of last year's performances and Hughes' early start to his 2011 campaign:
"CC Sabathia will obviously start on Opening Day, but who gets Game 2? Should the Yankees show A.J. Burnett that they still have confidence in him, or should they acknowledge that Phil Hughes seems to be the more reliable option at this point?" (via LoHud)
This should become one of the hottest ST storylines once things start getting into gear in the next couple weeks. If it's based on career track record and money, then A.J. should probably get the #2 spot. If it's based on 2010 body of work, then the nod should probably go to Hughes. My guess is, if A.J. shows any kind of marginal success in his Spring Training outings, he will get the call from Joe based on seniority. But if Hughes is lights out and shows continued improvement and better use of his secondary pitches, it's going to be hard to deny him a spot that he probably earned.
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