Phil Hughes Could Help Bolster Yankees Rotation, Eliminate Need to Give Up Prospects in Trade


Jul 17, 2011

Phil Hughes Could Help Bolster Yankees Rotation, Eliminate Need to Give Up Prospects in Trade Phil Hughes has gone from an elite prospect to a rising star to an afterthought seemingly overnight. But after a quality start for the Yankees on Sunday, during which he picked up his first win since Oct. 2, 2010, it might be time to recognize that the 25-year-old could become a key component of the Yankees' stretch run.

Plagued by a shouler injury that caused his velocity to dip, Hughes got off to abysmal start this season, giving up 16 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings — a span of three starts. With the right-hander tapering off a bit at the end of 2010, it seemed as if Hughes was still trying to right the ship, even with a new season upon us.

But it soon became clear that Hughes was suffering from much more than a late-2010 hangover. He essentially fell victim to a dead arm. In fact, in April, after being placed on the DL, he described what he felt when he threw as "just a lot of deadness."

But Sunday's performance against the Blue Jays did a lot to prove that Hughes' arm issues might be behind him. He wasn't particularly dominant, but in only his second start since being activated from the disabled list following an 84-game hiatus, it was encouraging — for Yankees fans at least.

Hughes gave up two runs on four hits, while striking out five, in six innings. He threw 80 pitches, 51 for strikes.

"It was jumping out of his hand today," catcher Russell Martin said after the game. "From what I've seen in the past, that's what he's usually doing. Just knowing that he can throw it by guys has to feel good for him."

Martin hit the nail on the head. It's those five K's that make it seem like it's not exactly outside the realm of possibility that Hughes can return to his All-Star form as we move forward. One of the reasons the righty struggled down the stretch last season, and struggled from the onset this season, was due to his inability to miss bats.

He struck out seven or more in six of his first 10 starts last season — while striking out six in two of the four starts in which he didn't strike out seven during that span. But he didn't reach the seven-K plateau once the rest of the way after that — a span of 19 starts. This season, he recorded five strikeouts total in his first four starts.

So to see Hughes go out, pitch aggressively and show more life on his fastball served as a reminder of just how good he could be with his arm completely intact.

Hughes won 18 games last season, which included a 10-2 start and a sub-3.00 ERA well into June. While he is still working his way back from the injury, evident by the pitch count limitation put on him on Sunday, he could become a major asset to the Yankees.

Not only is he only 25 years old, but because of his stint on the DL, he should be relatively fresh if and when he hits full stride. If he's able to stay fully healthy from here on out, his low number of innings this season could give him an advantage over other pitchers who near the 200-inning mark.

Now, obviously, an effective Hughes is no guarantee — far from it, in fact. But when you take into account the lack of premium starting pitchers available, the Yankees might have added one of the more quality guys out there — and they didn't have to give up anything to do so.

It's no secret that the Yankees would love to add a starter. Their rotation has been marred by injuries and uncertainty. They've been linked to Colorado Rockies starter Ubaldo Jimenez, but reports say that the Rox want a major package of highly regarded prospects in exchange for the flame-thrower.

But Jimenez, who like Hughes faltered after a hot start in 2010, hasn't been all that effective this season. He's 5-8 with a 4.08 ERA. Pitching at Coors Field tends to negatively impact a pitcher's numbers, but Jimenez's home/away splits are quite similar and the righty has a career 4.08 ERA against the American League.

Considering that acquiring the right-hander would likely cost the Yankees catching prospect Jesus Montero, pitcher Ivan Nova and two top-tier pitching prospects, the Yanks might be better off hoping that Hughes' return gives their rotation the boost it needs.

You can't put too much stock into just one start, but when you take into account Hughes' potential and where he was just a few months ago, it's hard not to be encouraged about a very good start against an AL East rival.

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