As I watch the Yankees and Phil Hughes take on the Mariners in Yankee Stadium I can't ignore the one thought that continually screams through my head with Hughes on the mound: THROW A DAMN CURVEBALL!!!
I have intently watched Hughes since his arrival in the big leagues and when he came up I often complained that the Yankees called far too many fastballs for him to be effective. Now I long for those days.
It seems that Hughes fell in love with his fastball last year when he came out of the bullpen firing darts past hitters and he began racking up Ks at an impressive rate. Now however, as a starter he seems to think that he only has two pitches in his repertoire. The first is his fastball, which has been a good pitch and the second has been his cutter, which has been great for him. The only problem is you can't go through an order three-plus times with only two pitches.
Hughes fails to use his curveball or his changeup. While I understand that Hughes would be wary of using his changeup in high leverage situations, I can only wonder why he refuses to throw the curveball.
Over the course of his first six starts Hughes overwhelmed the opposition, winning five games to the tune of a 1.38 ERA with 39 strike outs in 39 innings. Over his next eight, including tonight versus the Mariners, Hughes has a 5.33 ERA and has struck out 42 in 49 innings.
Now the problem with Hughes isn't stuff or location, it's that the opposition has now seen Hughes, and those that haven't have plenty of tape to work off of. Hitters have been fouling off Hughes' best pitches and hammering his cutter when they are looking for it. Take for instance this start against the Mariners, the second worst offensive team in baseball. Hughes threw 85 pitches during his start with 62 of those being cutters and fastballs for 73 percent of his pitches. That is simply too frequent to keep hitters from getting their timing and squaring him up.
Maybe now that Dave Eiland is back somebody can smack Hughes upside the head and tell him to throw a damn curveball or, God forbid, a changeup. But I wont be holding my breath. Maybe when he gets jacked up a few more times he will finally learn his lesson that the name of the game is locating you pitches and changing speeds (See Jamie Moyer).