Amid increasing speculation about his innings limit, Phil Hughes apparently found a way to take matters into his own hands: he threw 102 pitches in only 3 2/3 innings. By becoming only the third Yankees’ starter to throw more than 100 pitches in fewer than four innings, Hughes ironically may have bought himself another start later in the season. Of course, such a laborious outing probably took a greater toll on his valuable right arm than most of his longer, more efficient starts from earlier in the season, but not so according to Joe Girardi, who stated after the game that the high pitch count would not be factored into any limitations placed on his young hurler.
Although Hughes was certainly inefficient, he was definitely not wild; about 65% of his pitches were thrown for strikes. What’s more, he also featured some of his best velocity of the season, averaging more than one mile per hour greater on his fastball. What Hughes couldn’t do, however, was put batters away. Of the 18 batters on which Hughes’ reached a two-strike count, only seven were retired (six strikeouts and one pop up). The right hander was also plagued by an extraordinary number of foul balls. The Blue Jays managed to waste 28 of Hughes’ deliveries, or over 25% of his pitch count. Too much contact has been a problem for Hughes all season (hitters are making contact on 71.6% of pitches out of the zone, compared to last year’s rate of 63.2% and the league average of 66.6%), but last night it was epidemic. Feeding into the frustration was Hughes’ inability to throw his curve for a strike. In an attempt to get the Jays’ batters off the fastball, Hughes nearly doubled his normal allotment of curves (24% of pitches versus 15% for the season), but because fewer than half were strikes, the strategy did not have the desired effect.
Before being relieved by Javier Vazquez (who gave up only one run and two hits in 4 1/3 innings), Hughes last batter of the game was Vernon Wells, whose infield single in the fourth extended the Blue Jays lead to 5-2. Earlier in the game, Wells also reached Hughes for an RBI triple in the first inning and two run homerun in the third. The latter at bat was a microcosm of Hughes’ struggles. As in so many other at bats, the right hander jumped out ahead 0-2, but couldn’t close the deal. This time, instead of fouling off the pitch, Wells tomahawked a 93mph fastball that was well over a foot above the strike zone. It was just one of those days.
The Yankees offense didn’t do much right either. Unlike the Jays, who made Hughes work, the Yankees’ batters adopted an aggressive approach against Brett Cecil. With the exception of Marcus Thames, whose fourth inning two run homer temporarily kept the Yankees in the game, hitters up and down the lineup were caught off balance by the crafty lefty’s vast arsenal, which included a 90mph fastball along with a curve, sinker, slider and change up. Only when Cecil left the game after eight innings did the Yankees finally mount a real challenge, but by then it was too late. As they often do, the team rallied to put a scare in the opposition by sending the go ahead run to the plate. With the bases loaded and the lead narrowed to 6-3, Curtis Granderson had the chance to erase the previous eight innings of futility, but the comeback fell short when his fly ball to center appropriately landed in the glove the Wells.
The Yankees have been waltzing through the month of August: they take one step forward and then one step back. With Hughes on the mound, the Yankees likely figured they were putting their best foot forward, but the young right hander’s disappointing outing was a setback. Perhaps he was distracted by the recent talk of his impending innings limit? Who knows, but what last night’s game does illustrate is some of the folly involved with counting innings. In the real world, throwing 100 pitches in 3 2/3 innings qualifies as an arduous outing, but not according to the Hughes’ Rules. Because the team has failed to build its lead in August, it no longer looks likely that they’ll have the luxury of resting their pitchers down the stretch. How the team handles Hughes in that context could be the difference between winning a championship and not even making the playoffs, so it will be interesting to see how things unfold. If last night was a preview, however, the Yankees may not make it to the main feature.
Yankees’ Starters with More Than 100 Pitches in Fewer than Four Innings, Since 1920
|Tim Leary||5/1/1991||OAK||L 4-7||3.2||3||104||54||31|
|Phil Hughes||8/25/2010||TOR||L 3-6||3.2||5||102||66||30|
|Jim Abbott||5/8/1993||DET||W 10-8||3||7||101||54||15|