Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Phil Hughes comes up aces

Talk about a clutch pitching performance.

Phil Hughes needed a strong outing to prove that he deserved to stay in the New York Yankees rotation and he came through big time last night. He gave up no runs and only three hits in six innings in a rain-shortened shutout and completely dominated the Chicago White Sox. More importantly, he looked like the Phil Hughes of the first half of last year, the aggressive pitcher brimming with confidence.

As well as Ivan Nova is pitching, it will be very difficult for him to top Hughes’ outing on Thursday. But despite Joe Girardi hinting at giving a six-man rotation another go, I think Nova is heading back to the minors even if he pitches well. This short-lived competition was set up so that Hughes would stay in the rotation if he came through with a solid outing and he was even better than that. Girardi is never committal about his pitching plans, but he clearly wants Hughes in his rotation and was only going to banish him to the bullpen if he struggled again.

Was Hughes motivated by the possibility of losing his job to Nova? It's easy to make that assumption based on his stellar performance. But from his post-game interviews of late, it seems clear that no one was more disappointed in or harder on Hughes than Hughes himself. His confidence had taken a major hit and he needed to prove to himself that he could regain his All-Star form. That was probably the biggest motivation for Hughes and he not only proved it to himself, he proved it to everyone in the Yankees organization, especially those that were contemplating a bullpen move for him.

Hughes came up aces last night. If he can channel that aggressiveness and confidence into a few more strong outings, the threat of banishment to the bullpen will become a distant memory.

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