Phil Hughes thinks he has it all figured out.
Hughes has struggled through his first two starts of the season, posting an 0-2 mark with a 9.00 ERA. But as he looks forward to his start Thursday night in the finale of the Yankees' four-game series with the Twins, Hughes believes his early-season issues stem from one thing.
He's throwing his secondary pitches too often and isn't utilizing his fastball enough.
"Yeah, the changeup and the cutter obviously have their spots, but when I rely on one thing or the other too much that sometimes gets me in trouble," Hughes said Wednesday. "That goes along with fastball command. I'm constantly behind trying to go to other things to try to get back into [favorable counts]. So the fastball really has to be the biggest priority for me and I can go from there."
According to fangraphs.com, Hughes has used his fastball just 57.4 percent of the time this season, which is the lowest percentage of his career. Until last season, that percentage never dipped below 62. In 2010, when Hughes won a career-high 18 games, he went to his fastball 63.6 percent of the time.
Hughes' inability to maintain a level of consistency through his first two starts has led to high pitch counts. In his first start of the season against the Rays, he threw 84 pitches to 21 hitters, laboring through 42/3 innings. He threw 99 pitches to only 20 batters in Saturday's loss to the Angels, and lasted only 32/3 innings.
"He's gotten in some longer counts, number one, and hasn't been able to put hitters away," manager Joe Girardi said, "and number two, he's made some mistakes up. He's gotten plenty of strikeouts up, but he's also made some mistakes up. There's a fine line when you pitch up.
"If you don't get it high enough, a lot of times it's going to be hit hard. So when he chooses to go up in the zone for strikeouts, he's got to make sure he gets it there."
That's why Hughes said he has to "go back to what I really want to do as a pitcher, and that's attack early and do all the things that lead to successful outings -- like pounding the strike zone and getting early outs and going from there."
In other words, it's imperative that he trusts his best pitches, something Hughes believes he didn't do last time out when Howie Kendrick's fourth-inning, three-run homer gave the Angels a 6-0 lead and ended his outing.
"Sometimes you are on a different page with your catcher and there are certain things that are working," Hughes said. "The example that stands out to me is the front-door cutter that I tried to throw to [Peter] Bourjos last game. I struck him out and I tried to go to the well with that again, and it really hurt me with Kendrick.
"So it's little things like that where I'm trusting a fourth pitch when really I need to trust No. 1 and No. 2, and that's something I look to do a lot tomorrow."