What Is Phil Hughes? Part II

Phil Hughes is in trouble. A lot of trouble. But Phil Hughes has been in this kind of trouble before and has escaped it every time. This kind of trouble is the kind where you are pitching for your spot in the rotation.

The 27-year-old former No. 1 pick has backed himself into a corner. His win on July 2 in Minnesota was his first since June 6 and his second since May 10 and aside from beating the Twins, his other three wins have come against the A’s, Royals and Mariners. Only eight of his 17 starts have been quality starts, two starts have been disasters (4/13 vs. BAL and 6/1 vs. BOS) and one has been an atrocity (5/15 vs. SEA: 0.2 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 0 K). Normally this kind of mediocrity would be accepted and Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman would just continue to run him out there every fifth day and hope for the best (but usually receive the worst), but this time they can’t.

With CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte not going anywhere, three spots are guaranteed in the rotation. That leaves two spots for the recently disabled-listed David Phelps, the resurgent Ivan Nova, the nearly-done-rehabbing Michael Pineda and Hughes. But with Hughes, it’s even deeper than that.

Hughes is a free agent after this season and a strong trade deadline candidate especially with the Yankees’ abundance of pitching. It’s no secret that Hughes would be more successful in the National League or in a different home stadium since once again he’s struggled in the Bronx, going 1-6 with a 5.74 ERA at home and 3-2 with a 3.38 ERA on the road. If Hughes is to survive the July 31 deadline then only a very strong second half or some magical postseason performance would be enough for him to come back in 2014. It looks like time is running out on “The Phranchise” in pinstripes and Cashman might finally be ready to give up on his once-proud draft pick that he labeled as a future staff ace.

But for now, Hughes is still a Yankee and as of Monday he was still part of the rotation. On May 7, 2012 Phil Hughes was also pitching for his job and I followed his start with a Retro Recap, so I figured why not do it again on Monday night against the Royals with his job once again in jeopardy?

First Inning
It’s a Michael Kay and John Flaherty night on YES, so with or without Phil Hughes pitching, it should make for some good comedy despite neither of them trying to be comedic.

The first pitch of the game is a strike to Alex Gordon, which means Hughes will get ahead of at least one hitter tonight.

Hughes gets Gordon to ground out to second on the fifth pitch of the at-bat, which featured no “Phil Hughes” (a two-strike foul).

Alcides Escobar makes things easy by flying out to right on the first pitch.

YES is panning around the Stadium and the upper deck on a night when the place looks like it did in 1984.

Eric Hosmer lines out to short on the second pitch and it’s an eight-pitch, 1-2-3 innings for Phil Hughes. Michael Kay says, “Phil Hughes works a 1-2-3 inning!” with the voice he used to scream “That’s one of the greatest games you will ever see!” following John Flaherty’s 13th-inning walk-off hit against the Red Sox on July 1, 2004. But I’m with you Michael, a 1-2-3 first inning from Hughes should be celebrated.

Second Inning
Here’s Billy Butler, who is a .589 career hitter against the Yankees, to lead off the second. (He’s really a .281 hitter against the Yankees, but it feels like he’s been way better than that.)

And that’s why I thought Butler was a .589 hitter against the Yankees as he hits an 0-1 pitch into the right field seats for a 1-0 lead.

Salvador Perez strikes out swinging for the first out of the inning and Kay mentions how the Royals have two All-Stars (Perez and Gordon) for the first time in 10 years since they had to have one for the last nine years to meet the requirement that every team must be represented. Congratulations to somewhat ending a decade of mediocrity, Kansas City!

Hughes throws an 0-1 changeup to Mike Moustakas for a ball and Flaherty talks about how Hughes has implemented a changeup, which makes me think about when he tried to implement a cutter as a starter and got rocked like Chien-Ming Wang in the 2007 ALDS. Moustakas punishes me for taking a sarcastic shot at Kansas City with a double to left field.

Johnny Giavotella, who sounds and looks like he should be flipping pizzas or making some chicken parm, grounds out on a slider, which has been Hughes’ best pitch.

David Lough apparently took exception to the Kansas City comment too and goes the other way with a double to left field on an 0-2 fastball down the middle. That’s right, an 0-2 fastball down the middle. Never change, Phil Hughes. Never change.

Hughes gets ahead of Jarrod Dyson the same way he got ahead of Lough, but struggles to put him away and Kay mentions that Hughes has had trouble “this year” putting hitters away when he gets two strikes on them. Umm, only “this year,” Michael Kay? Where were you last year? And the year before that?

Hughes needs seven more pitches to retire Dyson on a ground out to second thanks to three “Phil Hughes” (two-strike fouls) in the at-bat.

After the eight-pitch first, Hughes throws 24 pitches and is at 32 after two.

Third Inning
The Yankees failed to score in the bottom of the second and have one run in their last 13 innings. Is that good?

Back to the top of the Royals order with Gordon, who Kay gives a history lesson on, calling him “a bomb” early in his career.  Gordon flies out to right on a changeup.

Random thought: What’s your idea of a Phil Hughes start? My idea is 5.1 IP, 7 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 K, 105 pitches.

Escobar grounds out to third on a slider and we are one out away from Hughes’ second 1-2-3 in three innings.

Hosmer comes up and YES shows the replay of his first career home run, which came at Yankee Stadium with his parents in attendance against one A.J. Burnett.

Hughes falls behind Hosmer 3-1 and then on the third straight fastball (following a “Phil Hughes”), Hosmer singles to right ending the 1-2-3 inning bid.

Hughes keeps Butler in the park this time with a ground out to short on a slider.

A 20-pitch inning and Hughes is at 52 pitches after three.

Fourth Inning
It’s raining at the Stadium and there is no one left behind home plate, so it looks like every other Yankee home game thanks to Randy Levine and team executives.

Perez apparently likes the rain as much as my girlfriend’s dog and swings at a first-pitch fastball and lines out to center for the first out of the inning.

Moustakas gets in one “Phil Hughes” with a 2-2 count before flying out to center.

Giavotella strikes out on three pitches, making my case for him flipping pizzas and making chicken parm looks stronger.

Wait a second, that’s three up and three down for Phil Hughes. We have a second 1-2-3 inning!

A 10-pitch inning and Hughes is at 62 after four.

Following Zoilo Almonte’s at-bat in the bottom of the fourth, the tarp is called for.

Rain delay…

The rain delay is coming to a close and we get our second look at Dave Eiland of the night on YES, who I miss about as much as I miss Nick Swisher. (Speaking of YES appearances, how come we haven’t seen much of Kevin Long this season?)

Kay talks about how when Eiland was with the Yankees and watched Guthrie pitch with the Orioles that he made a mental note about wanting to work with him since he could fix his delivery. I’m glad Eiland was more worried about helping other team’s pitchers rather than helping the Yankees pitchers when he was the team’s pitching coach.

Fifth Inning
The night is over for Phil Hughes. Jeremy Guthrie was able to come back out for the fifth inning after throwing, but apparently the 59-minute rain delay was too much for Joe Girardi to let Hughes (62 pitches) go on.

Hughes’ final line: 4 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 2 K.

Phil Hughes has gotten so many chances to succeed with the Yankees since 2007 that it’s unfathomable he could still be part of the rotation. After going 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 2010, he’s 25-26 with a 4.64 ERA in 66 games and 63 starts since the start of the 2011 season. 25-26?!?! I destroyed A.J. Burnett every waking moment for two years for pitching to very similar numbers (21-16, 5.20 ERA in 2011 and 2012 combined) though Burnett was making $16.5 million per season and Hughes is making $7.15 million this season.

Over the last two-plus seasons when Hughes has been juuuuuust about to be removed from the rotation, he finds a way to buy more time and get another chance and now apparently Mother Nature is rooting for him to stay in the rotation as well with a rain delay cutting his start short and letting him keep his job for at least five more days.

So I guess Part II of “What Is Phil Hughes?” isn’t the last part of this saga that’s now in its seventh year. Let’s just hope the long overdue series finale comes in the seventh season.