Finally a ‘W’ for much more consistent Hughes
Through five innings Saturday, Phil Hughes had thrown 86 pitches. I thought here’s another situation in which the righthander cannot moderate his pitch count and that Yankees manager Joe Girardi would have to get his bullpen in gear early.
But lo and behold, Hughes got more efficient with his pitches and came up with three straight 1-2-3 innings to be in good position to get his first winning decision of the season. Phil certainly earned it with eight shutout innings in which he allowed four hits and two walks with a season-high nine strikeouts.
Things got a bit hairy in the ninth when Shawn Kelley gave up a leadoff single, and Girardi did not hesitate to call on Mariano Rivera in a non-save situation. Mo gave up a walk and a hit with a couple of runs scoring, but the 4-2 Yankees final gave Hughes that long-awaited first victory of the season.
“I knew my pitch count was pretty high the first five innings,” Hughes said. “It all starts with the fastball. I got more aggressive with it on both sides of the plate and then I could mix in off-speed stuff.”
Hughes’ 117-pitch effort included an unusually high number of strikes – 82 – and marked his fourth consecutive outing of six or more innings in which he allowed two or fewer runs. He has held opponents to a .223 batting average in that stretch. Over those starts, Hughes had brought his ERA down from 10.29 to 3.60. “I feel like I’m clicking now,” he said.
For the second straight outing at Yankee Stadium, Hughes kept the ball in the yard, something he had not done before his previous start since last August. The long ball will always be a nemesis for Hughes, a fly-ball pitcher (10 of his 24 outs Saturday were in the air), but it is worth noting that all five homers he has allowed this year have come with the bases empty.
Ichiro Suzuki saved Hughes from yielding a home run to the first batter of the game, catcher John Jaso, with a fence-climbing catch in right field. A couple of other drives reached the warning track but stayed out of the stands.
“The consistency of his pitches every inning” was Girardi’s explanation for the turnaround in Hughes since his first two poor starts to open the season. “He mixed in all his stuff the second and third time through the order.”
Hughes’ offensive support came mainly from the bottom of the order – home runs from 9-hole hitter Chris Stewart in the third and 7-hole hitter Lyle Overbay in the fifth off Athletics starter Bartolo Colon and a triple by 8-hole hitter Eduardo Nunez, who scored on a two-out single by Brett Gardner in the seventh. The other run came from cleanup hitter Travis Hafner with a single in the sixth that scored Robinson Cano, who had doubled to lead off the inning against Colon.
That double was career No. 344 for Cano, who broke a tie with Hall of Famers Bill Dickey and Mickey Mantle to take over eighth place on the franchise’s all-time list.
Colon, who was 8-10 for the Yankees in 2011, lost for the first time in four decisions this year despite another good outing (three runs, six hits, no walks, three strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings). A control freak of a power pitcher, Colon has tossed 37 1/3 innings in 2013 and walked one batter.
The Yankees are 28-9 in games immediately following shutout losses since the start of the 2008 season (all under Girardi) with victories in both cases this year and 11 of the past 13. . .Hughes, with a 1.93 ERA and 30 strikeouts over his past four starts covering 28 innings, became the first right-handed starter for the Yankees to pitch at least eight shutout innings and strike out at least nine batters in a game since Mike Mussina Sept. 14, 2004 at Kansas City and the first to do so at the Stadium since Roger Clemens June 18, 2003 against the Rays. . .Hafner has at least one RBI in nine of the Yankees’ 10 series this season. . .Stewart entered 2013 with four homers in 351 career at-bats. He has two in 40 at-bats this season. . .Rivera’s 1,064th career appearance tied him with Dan Plesac for sixth place on the all-time games list. . .The Yankees are 17-2 when holding opponents to four or fewer runs and 16-3 when scoring four or more runs.