David Huff pitches Yankees to easy rain-delayed victory

 

Fans clamor for Phil Hughes to be removed from the rotation every time he gives up a home run or throws a bad pitch but the simple reality is the Yankees have few options to fill that spot.

And since obvious options David Phelps and Michael Pineda are injured without a timetable for any return, Hughes gets to stay.

However, as a by-product of a nearly two-hour rain delay Monday, the Yankees did not have endure another tough start by Hughes.

Instead, they sat back and watched David Huff breeze through 5 2/3 innings while allowing a run and five hits during a 9-1 rout of the White Sox.

“I was just attacking them,” Huff said of an outing in which he threw 48-of-62 pitches for strikes. “Fastballs, changeups and throw lots of strikes and I just tried to get that first-pitch strike. It helps a lot. It’s a totally different ballgame when you get that first strike.”

Huff has made 52 career major-league starts and may have faced Hughes in high school since both are from Southern California. Huff is two years older and attended UCLA before the Indians made him a first-round pick in 2006, two years after the Yankees drafted Hughes in the first round.

But before fans get too excited over the prospect of Huff replacing Hughes, Huff won 11 games in 23 starts for the 2009 Indians but went 7-18 over the next three seasons, a time that saw him get hit in the head by an Alex Rodriguez comebacker at Yankee Stadium in May 2010.

The body of work for Huff in New York is limited but so far, it has been positive. In his five outings before Monday, Huff had allowed one run in 10 1/3 innings, highlighted by five scoreless innings in the second game of a doubleheader against the Blue Jays two weeks ago.

“He was commanding the fastball to both sides of the plate at 92, 93 and he had a changeup and sprinkled some sliders in,” catcher Austin Romine said. “He was turning hitters into guess hitters and they were guessing wrong. We got on the same page real quick, the same page since he’s been here.

It’s a small sample size against a bad team but in a similar amount of innings, Hughes has allowed five earned runs and 15 hits over his last 12 innings.

It is unlikely the Yankees would actually go in that direction simply because of stuff. Huff’s is good enough to navigate through a bad lineup multiple times and the next two turns in this rotation spot would be against the Red Sox and Orioles, whose lineups are vastly superior to the ones fielded by Chicago and Toronto.

Heavy rains wiped away any chance of Hughes having a bad outing. He threw 20 pitches to five batters, with each at-bat ending with a fly ball or a line drive, on par with him having the third-lowest groundball to fly-ball ratio in the majors.

“He actually looked really good,” Romine said. “This is how it’s going for him. He comes out and he’s got good stuff today and I was actually excited and my thought was this was where he was going to turn it around.”

“I haven’t made any decisions about changing the rotation,” Girardi said. “It’s unfortunate the rain came after an inning and a third and with two strikes and we had to do it but it’s part of it.”

As for Huff, his outing began with him getting the final two outs of the second inning. In the third, he had to overcome a poor read by Alfonso Soriano in left field that led to a double for Jordan Danks and did so, with a pair of fly balls and a ground out.

Huff’s most impressive inning was the fourth when he faced Alexei Ramirez, Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko and made it through the middle of Chicago’s lineup in 11 pitches. He needed two pitches to get Ramirez with his changeup, survived a seven-pitch encounter with Dunn that saw the slugger chase a changeup that tailed away and down in the zone and then ended it with two pitches to Konerko.

“When he came out and got through those guys, I was like this is the same Huff we’re going to get every time I guess,” Romine said. “That’s a great thing because you kind of wait sometimes with new guys to figure out if he’s going to be that consistent and he’s been nothing but consistent for us. I was thinking we were going to need one and we got eight, so I was like here we go, this is easy.”

The next time he took the mound, he had a nine-run lead to work with after the Yankees sent 13 men to the plate in the fourth in a span of 33 minutes and 10 seconds.

Huff’s outing was not the only positive development as the Yankees won for the 15th time in 22 games. The other involved Derek Jeter. Jeter came into Monday hitless in 14 at-bats and a .167 average.

In his first at-bat he poked a single to left field that scored Brett Gardner and then looked the best he has since returning from his third DL stint while running to third on a fly ball by Robinson Cano.

Jeter flied out to the right field warning track in the fourth before getting one of three infield singles for the Yankees in the fourth that saw them capitalize on a pair of miscues.

Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.


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