Thursday, March 22, 2012
“Night and day,” manager Joe Girardi said, comparing this year’s Hughes to a year ago. “He looks like the guy we had two years ago ... with an improved changeup.”
Hughes hopes that’s enough to get him back to where he was when he won 18 games. His spring ERA is 2.02 after he gave up two runs — when Matt Joyce launched a cutter over the center-field fence in the second — over five innings in a 5-2 Yankees win.
“There’s always a need for good pitching and as long as I go out and pitch well and am one of those guys, there’s gonna be a spot,” Hughes said. “Andy Pettitte [coming back], I don’t think about that. Six starters for five spots, I don’t think about that.”
That’s easier this year than last, when it appeared his arm was about to fall off. And while his velocity still hasn’t returned to the pre-2011 levels, he did hit 93 mph and also featured an effective changeup, which was consistently 10 mph slower than his fastball.
“I really hadn’t gotten a chance to throw as many changeups as I wanted to,” Hughes said of this spring.
But yesterday, he finished off two of his three strikeouts with the pitch.
“I took a step forward today,” Hughes said. “I haven’t had a great feel of it, ever.”
Last year, Phil Hughes ranked in the bottom 5% in wOBA and bottom 8% in swing-and-miss percentage in two-strike counts. It’s too early to know whether his change is going to be an effective pitch in 2012. But if it is, maybe we won’t be such Negative Nancies when Phil gets to two strikes this year.