One of the more frequently cited causes of Phil Hughes’s early struggles is his inability to finish hitters after two strikes. Hughes did that slightly better last night, but his last failure to do so ultimately made it tougher for the Yankees to win.
Hughes hit Matt Wieters in the foot with his 100th — and final — pitch of the night. It led to a three-run inning and padded Baltimore manager Buck Showalter’s 1,000th career win. Hughes took his fourth loss of the season in the Yankees’ 7-1 defeat.
Hughes nearly made it through the sixth at home for the first time since Sept. 21, 2010 against Tampa Bay. He had two strikes on Wieters after getting a curveball for a called strike on the outer half of the plate, but after two fastballs were fouled off, Hughes went back to the curve and it broke too low and hit Wieters.
“That was tough,” Hughes said. “I was getting back on a roll. To get through the sixth would have been nice. When things aren’t going well, they just compound. That’s just the way it is.”
Even though he hit Wieters, Hughes still turned in a line that statistically was better than his previous four starts. He allowed four runs and four hits while striking out six and issuing one walk.
He occasionally flashed an effective curveball, but still threw 34 pitches after strike two, including the one to Wieters. It still represented somewhat of an improvement for Hughes, who had allowed 18 earned runs and 24 hits in just 16 innings before last night.
“I felt with the stuff I had tonight, I can have success,” Hughes said. “Overall I thought it was the best stuff I had all year.”
Opposing hitters came into the night hitting .329 (24-for-73) off Hughes during his first 16 innings, but the Orioles were 4-for-21 last night as Hughes mostly abandoned his changeup and cutter.
He threw just five changeups and one cutter. It was part of a plan to regain his relief pitcher mentality. He does not plan to abandon those pitches, but will focus more on fastballs and curveballs.
“I felt like I was getting beat too much with my cutter and changeup,” Hughes said. “It’s not like something that I’m never going throw again, but in those types of situations, I’m going to go to number one or number two.”
“We hope so and I still feel he can mix more, but as long as he’s comfortable doing what he’s doing,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I felt he was stronger tonight; I really did.”
Their first big hit was Chris Davis’s solo home run off Hughes’s fastball with one out in the second. J.J. Hardy added a two-run shot down the left field line in the third, but after that the Orioles went 1-for-11 until the Wieters’s at-bat.
“The one to Hardy stands out,” Hughes said. “[I wanted it] more in, especially on an 0-1 count. It’s got to be in. It’s either got to be on the black in or off the plate.”
The Yankees’ offense failed to get anything going against Brian Matusz, who snapped a 12-game losing streak.
Matusz had the longest active losing streak in the majors and the second-longest in Baltimore history. He allowed Curtis Granderson’s ninth home run among six hits in 6 1/3 innings for his first win since June.
Matusz also gave up three hits to Derek Jeter, but retired Robinson Cano three times with a man on base and Alex Rodriguez with for the final out of the third.
Rodriguez actually had a bunt hit, but he wasted the Yankees’ biggest opportunity by fouling out to Wieters with the bases loaded for the final out of the seventh.
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.