Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What Should We Expect From Phil Hughes Tonight?

(It'll be good to see Phil back in the pinstripes tonight.  Courtesy of The AP)

The prodigal son makes his return to the rotation tonight in the rubber match against Cleveland.  It'll be the first time since April 13th that Phil Hughes has started a game for the Yankees, and the results leading up to his DL stint and recent rehab were quite ugly.  In 10.1 innings over 3 starts, Hughes put up an ungodly 13.64/8.56/6.34 tripleslash with 2.61 K/9 and 3.48 BB/9.  It's not a stretch (yeah it is) to say that I could have probably gone out there with my high-60s heater and 50s offspeed stuff and put up those numbers.

That was the Phil Hughes with the high-80s fastball, little to no movement, and even less confidence.  Tonight he returns after 3 solid MiL rehab starts, the last one a gem, with his fastball back, his arm strength back, and by the sounds of it, his confidence back too.

“I know it’ll be good.  I know my stuff is there, I just have to execute pitches. I know if I do that, I’ll be fine. I’m not going out there with any wonder or curiosity or doubt. I’m just going out trying to execute every pitch I can.”

This is a complete 180 from the version of Phil Hughes we were seeing and hearing back in early April.  And that, more than the velocity and arm strength, is a great thing.  But the question still remains about what Hughes will look like out there on the hill tonight, and what should we realistically expect from him?  If he can repeat the velocity and maintenance of it through 5-6 innings like he did in his last rehab start, I would be happy with that.  I'm sure Joe and Larry Rothschild are going to have him on some sort of pitch count closely tied to what they're seeing on the gun so as not to risk re-aggravating the shoulder inflammation that was supposedly causing his early-season dead arm.  If he makes it up to that pitch count with better velocity on his fastball and some more bite than what he showed early in the year on his offspeed stuff, I could honestly care less what his line looks like.  I'd be happy with 3-4 runs allowed in 5-6 innings of work.  It would be an improvement over what he produced earlier in the year and a sign that he's moving back towards being the Phil Hughes we remember from last season.

Let's remember that the Yankees don't need Hughes to come back and become the #2 starter that some were expecting him to be on Opening Day.  He's essentially replacing Ivan Nova's 4.12/4.42/4.21 line and 0.8 WAR from the 5th spot in the rotation.  There's no pressure for him to come in and light the world on fire, so for his first time out after an extended absence there's no reason to expect anything more than what Nova has given the Yankees as long as the indication is that he'll continue to move towards exceeding Nova's output.  And coming off a year where he went 4.19/4.25/4.13 with 2.4 WAR, we all know Hughes is capable of that.

Tonight we, like Hughes and the Yanks themselves, should not be looking for anything more than some low-to-mid-90s on the gun and Hughes looking more comfortable on the mound.

Quote courtesy of LoHud.

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