Things are different now. The change happened early, it was impossible to miss it. It was right there on the scoreboard, in big glowing digits. A 95 mph fastball to strikeout Carlos Quentin and cap an overwhelming first inning. Walking off the mound, Phil Hughes looked over his shoulder and saw the number.
“I knew it was coming out good from the beginning,” he said. “I got some swings and misses early. I knew it was good. I happened to glance up after I got Quentin in the first inning and saw 95, and I just said, ‘Alright, I can work with this.’ This is what I normally have and what I can normally do. Once I got that confidence in the first inning, I just took that aggressive mindset and rolled with it.”
He’s been searching for consistency, and that’s been a concern. At times he’s lacked a true out pitch, and that’s caused some problems. He’s been an absolute disappointment this season, and even he knows it. But tonight was everything that there is to like about Hughes, and it’s the reason that the Yankees will most certainly think twice about bumping him from the rotation. He is a guy that won 18 games last year and has been hyped for so long, they aren't just going to throw him to the trash.
“We talked about trying to get him back to where he was last year, (and) today was pretty close,” Joe Girardi said. “… We have to talk about this. Maybe we stay at six-man rotation through another time. I don’t know what we’re going to do at this moment, but I’m happy with what I saw tonight, and I really liked it.” The Yankees may be able to benefit from a six man rotation, if everyone is pitching well why change it.
“It really didn’t even come into my mind, everything that was going on,” he said. “It was more of a personal thing for me. I wanted to pitch well. I knew I could be better than what I had been showing, and that was basically it. I wanted to satisfy myself before everybody else, and I’m pretty satisfied with this one and hopefully it’s something that will continue.”
Mark Teixeira has now homered from both sides of the plate in same game 12 times, more than anyone in baseball history. “There is a lot of failure in this game, there’s no doubt,” Teixeira said. “When you can put your name in the record books for something like this? Being a switch hitter is very tough, and this was a nice night for me.” It is a nice thing for him, to say you are the leader in any category is an accomplishment.
Teixeira also became the fourth Yankee to hit 30 home runs in each of his first three seasons with the Yankees, joining Babe Ruth, Roger Maris and Alex Rodriguez. Yes those are some big names he has joined.
Hughes said coming into this game that he wanted to be more aggressive with his fastball, but he said he didn’t necessarily mean to throw nothing but fastballs in the first inning. It just kind of happened that way. “I threw a couple of fastballs in to Pierre and Vizquel, and then I was aggressive with Quentin,” he said. “That’s just the way it went.”
As much as the velocity obviously stands out — Hughes still hit 94 in the fourth inning — Hughes immediately answered “location of my fastball” when asked what made the biggest difference tonight. It always comes down to command, doesn’t it?
One last Hughes note on velocity: “I’ve always been a guy where I let it all go,” he said. “Whenever it starts to decline, it declines. I felt like it was still good enough later on. I wasn’t really checking the scoreboard, but I was just trying to execute pitches and I got a lot of early outs in those middle innings.”
The Yankees did score six runs in seven innings tonight, so the offense wasn’t exactly slumping. They’ve won five straight and nine of their past 12, and they’re 24-9 against left-handed starters this season.
Russell Martin homered for the first time since June 29. This was his first road home run since April 23 in Baltimore. He has really tailed off offensively but has been such a good catcher defensively and the way he handles the pitching staff. He shows a lot of toughness, he is in the mold of Thurman Munson. I can't see the Yankees not bringing him back to be their catcher and help tutor the young guys like Jesus Montero and Austin Romine who will be behind him trying to take the job and battle for the backup position.
Other than Teixeira, who had three hits, the only other Yankee with multiple hits was Derek Jeter who singled and doubled in his first two at-bats. Brett Gardner was the only Yankees starter without a hit.
Even though it was a rain-shortened game, all stats count, even the ones from the top of the seventh inning. The game was delayed 45 minutes at the start, then delayed another 57 minutes before it was called.
A final word from Hughes: “If I could have picked a way that I wanted to pitch, this would be it.” He has obviously been bothered and frustrated by the way this year has gone. The thing is he can redeem himself now, if he pitches well down the stretch and into the postseason all will be forgotten about the rest of the season up to this point.
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