At some point in the hours leading up to last night’s game with the Tampa Bay Rays Jorge Posada approached Phil Hughes with an important suggestion.
The conversation about the game plan - especially since it was the same starting nine Rays as last week – focused on using the changeup, a pitch Hughes has been fine-tuning but rarely displayed in game situations until last night.
Hughes threw 15 changeups and it helped immensely as he overcame not necessarily having the best stuff to pitch decently for most of his 6 1/3 innings.
Hughes was not the primary reason for the Yankees moving 2 ½ up in the AL East with an 8-3 victory but his ability to use that pitch and wiggle out of trouble at times certainly helped matters.
“I told him before the game we want him to show them another look with that changeup,” Posada said after the Yankees reduced their magic number for clinching a postseason spot to three.
Last week Hughes and retired the first 12 hitters after being skipped a second time due to the innings limit. He wound up with a loss after allowing two home runs to Dan Johnson among six hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Hughes threw 107 pitches but just four were changeups and entering his 28th start, the 24-year-old that pitch 57 times mostly because of poor command.
“I threw some pretty good ones down in Tampa,” Hughes said. “I felt like this is a team that throws a lot of lefties up there and I knew if I could execute that pitch, this would be good for me “I just trusted it and I’m glad it got me out of a lot of problems and it set me up in counts as well.”
The pitch appeared once in the opening inning but after the Yankees scored five in the bottom of the first on Nick Swisher’s 27th home run, Lance Berkman’s two-run double and RBI singles by Posada and Curtis Granderson, Hughes appeared more confident in throwing it.
He threw it twice in the second and then used it to get out of a first and second situation in the third by retiring Johnson on a harmless groundout to first base. After leaving the bases loaded in the fourth, Hughes breezed through the fifth and sixth, getting Johnson to ground out on the changeup in the fifth and Matt Joyce on the pitch for the first out of the sixth before using his fastball for the final two outs.
“Obviously, he's going to learn a lot more and grow a lot more from days like today, and he proved it," Posada said. "He's capable of doing everything he's doing and attacking some of those hitters. To be able to minimize his mistakes, that's the biggest thing, and he's been able to do that."
Hughes was able to do all that by using all of his pitches but with the changeup playing a role, a projected fifth starter is a 17-game winner and fine-tuning himself for some bigger starts next month.
“I’m very pleased,” manager Joe Girardi said of Hughes’ pitching out of trouble. “I think that’s a sign of maturation too. I’ve yet to see a starter go 32-0 but I think he’s responded well and when I think we skipped him, I think it helped him.”
- PHOTOS: Celebrities attend 'Avengers: Endgame' premiere in Los Angeles22 Pictures
- PHOTOS: Memorial spotlights the man behind Nipsey Hussle rap persona14 Pictures