There are a couple of ways to look at yesterday’s solid start from Phil Hughes. One way, suggested by Joe Girardi, is that getting an effective Hughes back is like making a trade for “a quality starter.” There’s a certain logic to that, we suppose: The Yankees got this far without getting much out of Hughes, and yesterday they got six good innings out of him in a 7–2 win — giving them reason to believe he’ll be able to bolster their rotation going forward. Or, one could take a step back, recall that heading into the season, Hughes was expected to be one of the more dependable members of the rotation — that he was supposed to pitch well for them on a regular basis — and hope that he’ll at least be able to fill that role for half the season.
And so maybe adding an effective Hughes is something of a bonus for a rotation that has thus far performed pretty well this year. Or maybe, with some doubts about Bartolo Colon’s durability starting to emerge, the Yankees will need Hughes to earn back his middle-of-the-rotation job. Or perhaps all that really matters is that Hughes’s outing yesterday was encouraging, since his continued progress is important regardless of what’s going on around him in the rotation.
Hughes yesterday used a new grip on his curveball, which led to a sharper break and increased velocity. (He also threw his curveball far more often than he had in his previous starts this year.) And though the velocity on his fastball dipped as the game went on, it led to a handful of swings and misses, including three for third strikes. (Russell Martin was especially pleased with those, explaining that it’s a confidence booster for Hughes.) His line for the day: six innings, two runs, four hits, two walks, and five strikeouts. Not necessarily dominant, but not bad, either. For the first time all year, Hughes left the game with an ERA in single digits, and earned his first win of the year in the process.
The win also gave the Yankees a split in a series in which they’d lost the first two games — games that featured rough outings for Colon and Freddy Garcia respectively. With Ivan Nova waiting in the minors, the Yankees at least have a little margin for error at the back of their rotation — or at least, more margin for error than they usually do. But they can’t afford to plug too many holes from within the organization — which is why you’ve been hearing Ubaldo Jimenez’s name so much lately. We’re not ready to declare that Phil Hughes has his best stuff back and will once again look like the pitcher who started out the 2010 season so hot. But yesterday, to be sure, was a step in the right direction.