So what did you think of Phil Hughes' changeup?
Hughes won his first start of the season last night, 6-2 over the Angels, and the Yankees have a 6-3 record after winning consecutive series against the Red Sox, Rays and Angels. Pretty, pretty good.
Yet even as Hughes displayed his potential last night, he also provided a public-service reminder: It sure is easier to dominate as a reliever than as a starter.
"It felt different, for sure," a pleased-looking Hughes said. "I hadn't done it in a while. Emotions were high the first couple of innings. I was really amped up, ready to go. It was a good feeling to be back out there again."
In his first major-league start since last May 31, the 23-year-old threw 108 pitches to record 15 outs, and David Robertson bailed him out after Hughes allowed the Angels' first two batters of the sixth inning to reach base. Hughes was charged with two runs, allowed three hits and five walks and struck out six.
"I'm very pleased with what he did," Joe Girardi said.
He grinded through, and Girardi let him go out for the sixth inning even though Hughes' pitch count stood at 97 through five. Yet Hughes hardly evoked images of the businesslike way he disposed of batters in the late innings last year, when he had a 1.40 ERA in 44 appearances, striking out 65 and walking 13 in 511/3 innings.
If it could've been better for Hughes himself, then it at least protected Joba Chamberlain - who recorded four outs in relief - from those who could never quite appreciate why he looked so much better as a reliever than a starter.
"As a starter, you need more than two pitches, unless you have a 98-mph fastball and a 90-mph slider that you have tremendous command of," Yankees pitching coach Dave Eiland said before the game. "There's not many of those guys walking around."
Eiland was discussing, specifically, the changeup that Hughes worked on for all of spring training. The changeup has been a Hughes project for a couple of years now, Eiland said, explaining, "Last year, when he went to the bullpen, that got put on hold."
Hughes threw mostly fastballs, cutters and curveballs last night. The Angels started five lefthanded or switch hitters who totaled one hit in eight at-bats - Matsui's second-inning homer, which earned him a partial standing ovation - but drew all five walks, for an overall .462 on-base percentage.
The changeup mostly stayed in his pocket, Hughes said, because the Yankees' scouting report indicated that most of the Angels' lefties could hit the pitch. Abreu looked at one for a ball, and Matsui looked at three out of the strike zone and fouled off another one.
"I didn't feel like it was the proper pitch in counts where maybe I would've in spring training," Hughes said. "I think maybe that'll come with more confidence I gain."
The Yankees chose Hughes as their fifth starter in spring training, relegating Chamberlain to the bullpen, because they think Hughes possesses both the stuff and the baseball IQ to handle starting.
Again, though . . . it's not an easy task. If Hughes can keep progressing, then the Yankees might finally have their reasonably priced, homegrown starting pitcher. For now, though, we look forward to seeing more of that changeup.
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