Hughes Overcomes Early Hiccup

Through his first 10 Triple-A innings, Yankees righthander Phil Hughes had struck out “just” seven batters, walked four and allowed seven earned runs. His effort Wednesday in his third start of the season went a long way toward erasing any misplaced doubt.

Hughes fanned 10 Syracuse batters in six innings, walking none and giving up just two hits. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre won the game 4-0.

“He didn’™t pitch as bad as his numbers showed in his first two starts,” Scranton pitching coach Dave Eiland said. “His first start was pretty good, and with his last start he was a lot a better than the previous one.”

Eiland, who also coached Hughes at Double-A Trenton last season, said he suggested a minor alteration to Hughes’ delivery that would allow his arm to reach its proper slot.

“He was drifting through the balance point of his delivery a little bit, and it wasn’t allowing him to be as sharp,” Eiland said. “The command and life on his fastball were still OK, but it wasn’t Phil Hughes-like. He worked on that between starts.”

That’s not to say Hughes is not a self-aware pitcher. Eiland credits the 20-year-old with having high pitching aptitude and a sound delivery. “You’ve got to tell him just one small thing and he’s back where he needs to be. Every now and then your delivery is going to be a bit off. He corrects himself,” the pitching coach said.

Hughes excelled with an overpowering 90-94 mph fastball and a plus curveball that came out of his hand at the same angle as his fastball. He also showed more confidence in his developing changeup.

“He’s not a mid- to high-90s guy, but his command is so good and he has so much late life that the ball just explodes at the end,” Eiland said. “Hitters take swings off him like he’s mid-90s plus. Command separates him from pack, and that comes from his delivery.

“Our goal is to just keep him going, to help him develop his changeup. He just needs experience and innings. He’s just 20-year-old, and I think a lot of times we forget that. He needs to pitch in big situations–men on second and third with one out–to see how he responds.”

Though Hughes came out of high school with an advanced slider, the Yankees have helped him develop a curveball, a pitch that generates more swings and misses and reduces arm strain.

“He still throws the slider two, three, four times a game, if at all. He still throws it on side days,” Eiland said. “That slider’s still there.”