Back when Phil Hughes was a top five prospect in all of baseball, he had everyone raved that he hard outstanding fastball control, and a knockout curveball. Here is even a snippet from Baseball America when they rated Hughes the Yankees top prospect prior to the 2007 season:
"Hughes' greatest accomplishment as a pro has been to forsake his slider in favor of a knockout curveball, which is more of a strikeout pitch and produces less stress on his arm. It's a true power breaking ball that sits in the low 80s with 1-to-7 break. Club officials call it the best in the system because Hughes can throw it for quality strikes or bury it out of the zone, and because he uses the same arm slot and release point he uses for his fastball."
High praise indeed, but after Hughes reached the majors and following his long DL stint after he pulled a hamstring mid-no-hitter in Texas, he forsook his conventional curveball grip for the grip of a knucklecurve a la Mike Mussina. Since then it has seemed that he has always had trouble with putting hitter away, and if you ever saw one of them take his curveball, you would know he wasn't following anyone with it.
It seems the biggest difference with the curveball is the velocity he throws it with. Now his curveball sits in the upper 70s rather that the 72-73 he threw with the knucklecurve. That seem to keep the Jays hitters off balance more and didn't allow them to foul of the pitch when they were fooled.
Since 2008 Hughes has had to rely primarily on his fastball and cut fastball to get hitters out, and as the second half of last year showed, he cannot survive an entire season with just fastballs. Forever it was thought that Hughes needed to add a change up in order to move to an elite level as a starter. The reality might be that he needs to return to his roots with his curveball and, of course, a change would be nice too.
Now I'll actually be able to look forward to his Friday start against the light hitting Oakland A's.