Phil Hughes just can’t catch a break. Every time it appears as though he’s finally becoming the dominant pitcher the Yankees dreamed he could be, something happens to reverse all the good he’s done. And so, less than two weeks removed from his best start as a big-leaguer, the Yankees have pulled Hughes out of the rotation to make room for Chien-Ming Wang. He’ll go to the bullpen for now, though Brian Cashman says such a move is only temporary, that they still consider him a starter, and that they’ll reevaluate things in a few weeks — meaning unless there’s an injury to another member of the rotation, he could very well end up back at AAA.
Of course, a young pitcher giving way to a more seasoned one wouldn’t be so hard to swallow if Hughes hadn’t teased fans before. In 2007, in just his second major-league start, Hughes took a no-hitter into the seventh inning … and then injured his hamstring, causing him to miss three months. Then, after missing out on a spot in the postseason rotation, he relieved an ineffective Roger Clemens during the ALDS — in the last start of Clemens’s career — with three and two-thirds scoreless innings. (Incidentally, that was the last time the Yankees won a playoff game.)
The Yankees affirmed their commitment to Hughes in 2008 when they deemed him, along with a couple of other young players, too valuable to part with, even for Johan Santana. Hughes repayed them by going winless in 2008, battling injuries, bad vision, and good-old-fashioned poor pitching — which made his start last month against Texas so promising. Could this finally be the breakthrough the Yankees were waiting for? Apparently not. Of course, Hughes could be a starter again at any time, what with all the injury risks in the rotation. But you have to wonder: For a team that has been so careful not to let Joba Chamberlain bounce between the bullpen and the rotation, do they think that much less of Hughes that they’re willing to let him change gears so often, and with so little notice?