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If a tree can travel 86 mph, why can't Phil Hughes' fastball?

APRIL 3: TIGERS 10, YANKEES 7 Game story

APRIL 3: TIGERS 10, YANKEES 7
Game story - Box Score - Photos
Recap: The Yankee bats exploded against Tigers pitching yet again. Jorge Posada hit two homers, another by Mark Teixeira and one by Robinson Cano. It wasn't enough as Phil Hughes struggled in four innings of work allowing five runs and two homers, both to Miguel Cabrera. Bartolo Colon struggled in his Yankee debut. He gave up four runs in four innings of relief including a homer to Brennan Boesch.
Key stat: Tigers first basemen Miguel Cabrera has hit safely in 25 of 26 games against the Yankees.
Jeter Watch: 0-for-4. Needs 72 hits to reach 3,000.
2011 record: 2-1
2010 record: 2-1

Photo Credit: Christopher Pasatieri

Before we get to Yankee pitcher Phil Hughes and the fact that radar guns are clocking his fastball at roughly 5 miles per hour slower than his past average -- around 88 or 89 instead of 93 or 94 -- consider this:

In 1979, a Miami television station showed viewers a police radar gun catching a palm tree "traveling" 86 mph and a house at 28 mph. Given that, what could the numbers on Hughes possibly mean?

"When you think about it, it is a pretty small difference between 89, 90 and 92, 93," Hughes said.

He was being interrogated by reporters after a bullpen session Tuesday afternoon, preparing to return to the mound Wednesday before a rainout against the Baltimore Orioles bumped him to a Thursday assignment.

The difference between how fast he has been throwing this season and how fast he has thrown in the past "is not something I notice" simply by winging a ball 60 feet and 6 inches. "When I throw on the side," he said, "I feel it’s popping pretty good."

But he acknowledged that his fastball was lumbering just enough to make a difference. "You can tell by the swings," he said. "Normally, I can get swings and misses on my fastball. When I’m not, that’s kind of an indicator."

That, and his 16.50 earned run average, so large it barely fits inside Yankee Stadium.

So, a few thoughts from Hughes:

Two to three miles per hour on a pitch "can have an impact. I don’t know if it’s a hundred percent of [his current pitching woes]. Good location is ultimately the key. My location hasn’t been great. And when I do miss some in the strike zone with my fastball, that can make a difference, and the fact [batters] don’t have to respect my breaking pitches as much because they know I can’t get a fastball by them, that can have an impact as well. It’s not a hundred percent of the outcome but it can certainly, you know, make a difference."

With improved location, Hughes agreed he can "get by" without reaching maximum speed, "but I don’t want to get by and pitch OK. I want to go out there and pitch with the stuff I’ve had. Right now it’s not there, and it’s frustrating."

A 94-mph fastball is "not something where I feel different; it’s just when it comes out of my hand, it’s just better. There’s really no explanation, There’s nothing that I feel different. It’s just, my arm’s in peak-possible shape. That’s the frustrating part, going out there and pitching with stuff that isn’t me. If it’s not, then I have to try and find a way."

If a palm tree can hit 86 on the radar gun, surely there is still hope for the 24-year-old Hughes.

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