Thursday, July 28, 2011

Phil Hughes must now fight for his job

The message was unmistakable, if not a bit unfair: Phil Hughes must now fight to keep his job.

Joe Girardi didn’t dismiss the possibility that Hughes could be forced out of the New York Yankees rotation in favor of Ivan Nova, who was pitching very well before his unearned demotion. But Hughes is more of a proven commodity than Nova so that was an easy call. Banishing Hughes to the bullpen in favor of Nova won’t be that easy.

To be fair, Girardi put a positive spin on Hughes’ outing by saying his stuff was better and the righty pitched out of some jams and left with minimal damage. But the Yankees manager acknowledged that Hughes could be better and was still not quite the pitcher he was last year when he won 18 games.

Hughes is always the most honest person in evaluating his own performances, never feeling the need to spin his outings the way his manager does. “Better isn’t really saying all that much compared to the last outing,” Hughes said, referring to his failure to last through five innings in his previous start.

Hughes, once again showing his maturity, barely blinked when Kim Jones asked him the very uncomfortable question about Girardi opening the door to him being replaced in the Yankees rotation. But I can’t imagine he was happy hearing from a reporter that his job could be in jeopardy.

It seems a bit unfair considering that the issue that has hampered Hughes this year is a health issue (one that may be partly the Yankees fault because of the way they have used him in a failed effort to protect him). Plus, I don’t see Girardi opening the door to AJ Burnett losing his job, even though he is far more erratic than Hughes could ever be (Burnett’s bigger paycheck gives him a longer leash apparently). But perhaps Hughes can use the indirect threat to his job as motivation for the rest of the season.

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