In the sixth inning and with runners on first and second in a four-run game, Phil Hughes could have shown the inconsistencies that have left some frustrated with his brief career as a starting pitcher.
Instead, Hughes went to his curveball and struck out both Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana to preserve the lead in last night’s 6-4 win over the Indians.
Hughes (8-6) allowed six hits in eight scoreless innings while facing 29 hitters. He threw his curveball 22 times for 17 strikes and threw 111 pitches overall, the seventh time in his career he has gone over 110 pitches.
Hughes started the third at-bat against Kipnis by getting ahead 0-2 on the fastball. After Kipnis fouled off a high fastball, Hughes threw an inside knee-level curve that broke at the last second.
The at-bat to Santana would be slightly more difficult. Santana fouled off three fastballs and evened the count on another, but Hughes threw a similar curve to the one he threw Kipnis and got the same result.
“I’d say so,” Hughes said when asked if those were his two biggest outs. “I was able to get Kipnis with a good breaking ball and Santana. It was a big spot right there with guys on base. Those are the moments where you know you’re going to have to work hard during an outing.
“With nobody on, I wouldn’t say I’m on cruise control but the pressure isn’t building as much. But when you get a couple of guys on base that’s where you know you have to bear down and make some good pitches. Fortunately I was able to locate them.”
It marked the second time that Hughes threw at least eight shutout innings. He also did so May 25, 2009 in Texas.
But perhaps more important for the present version of Hughes was this bounce-back start made him 7-2 with a 3.48 ERA since May 6, a streak that has lowered his ERA from 7.48 to 3.48.
“The fastball was outstanding,” catcher Chris Stewart said. “He located it inside to them and they weren’t able to catch up. He threw his curveball when he needed to put them away and you can’t ask for anything better than that.”
“I’m really impressed,” manager Joe Girardi said. “And you can look at the eighth where he gets the runner on second with nobody out too. All three innings and it ends up the runs might have meant something when you look at the game now. So it’s really impressive what he did.”
The proper timing and placement of his curveball were not the only things assisting Hughes with his fifth win in six decisions.
Hughes had tremendous help from his corner outfielders and even caught a break for the final out of the seventh on a blown call by third base umpire Mike DiMuro.
DiMuro ruled that left fielder Dewayne Wise caught a foul pop up by Jack Hannahan when he dove and tumbled into the first row of seats. Replays showed that Wise did not seem to maintain possession through the play. Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan was ejected by DiMuro after arguing.
“You see that all the time,” Wise said. “A guy misses a play like that; they always ask to see the ball. I just heard him say out right away and I decided to run off the field.
“It’s a rough angle for the umpire,” Girardi said. “The umpire signaled him out. I never even saw the replay, but I guess he didn’t catch it and it happens. I don’t know. What are you going to do?”
DiMuro fielded questions from a pool reporter and admitted that he made a mistake on the play.
“I went out on the ball and saw the ball into his glove in the stands,” DiMuro said. “He disappeared into the stands and I believed that the ball was in his glove.
“Now that I see the tape, it’s obvious that the ball fell out of his glove. In hindsight, I should have asked him to show me the ball since he fell into the stands and out of my line of vision.”
Hannahan did not hold back when discussing the play.
“You know, I can live with the fact that he didn’t see Dewayne drop the ball and I can live with the fact that there was a fan two feet away from him … jumping up and down excited he got a foul ball,” Hannahan said. “You know, I can live with that. But to not ask Dewayne to see the ball is absolutely inexcusable.”
Besides that, Nick Swisher tracked down six fly balls. Among them was a slight leap to catch Kipnis’s fly ball for the final out of the first and a diving catch on Asdrubal Cabrera’s ball for the final out of the third after the Yankees scored three in the second.
The Yankees scored three runs off Justin Masterson on an RBI base hit by Chris Stewart and a two-run single by Curtis Granderson.
Of course they did hit another home run, but that was in the seventh when Alex Rodriguez reached the second deck in left field. It was his 642nd career home run and the Yankees’ 116th of the year.
The three additional runs the Yankees scored after the second proved necessary after Cory Wade gave up a three-run home run to Jose Lopez in the ninth. Rafael Soriano finished up in just two pitches.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.