The Fate of Phil Hughes: Will the Yankees Make the Same Mistake Twice?
Three years ago, the Yankees were all a buzz about one of their farm hands named Phil Hughes. Hughes was drafted out of high school, and was considered to be the future of the Yankees' starting rotation.
Hughes got his call up to the big leagues, and had flashes of brilliance, but ended up going through some growing pains and battled some injuries the past two seasons.
At the start of this season, Hughes began his season in Scranton as the Yankees had a fully stocked rotation with newbies CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett as well as Andy Pettitte and Chien Ming Wang with Joba Chamberlain filling in the fifth spot.
However, Wang was on the DL after just three starts, and the bullpen was a living nightmare. Hughes was called up to fill Wang's spot for at least a two-week time period, and went 3-2 in seven starts with a 6.59 ERA.
While those numbers are less than stellar, at the start of the season it seemed that every Yankee pitcher had an inflated ERA. Wang returned in June, and Hughes was moved to the bullpen. The Yankees figured they could keep Hughes' inning total down if he came out of the pen rather than go down to Triple A.
It seemed like once again the Yankees were taking a pitcher that they planned to be the future of their starting rotation and putting him in the bullpen (i.e. Joba Chamberlain).
Chamberlain was masterful as Mariano's set-up man, dazzling radar guns with fastballs that reached sometimes 99 m.p.h. and keeping hitters off balance with a nasty 87 m.p.h change up.
The Yankees were determined to make Joba into a starter and used the 2008 season to stretch him out enough so that he would be able to go back to starting. Joba's had mixed success as a starting pitcher. There are some nights that he looks amazing, like the night he struck out 12 Red Sox hitters, but more often than not he can't make it out of the fifth inning.
Hughes has made the most out of his time in the bullpen lowering his ERA from 6.59 to 3.76. Against the Tigers on July 17, Hughes' fastball topped out at 96 m.p.h., and in two innings of work, he didn't surrender a run. He has easily been one of the Yankees' most reliable relievers.
So now, the question arises yet again... does Hughes stay in the bullpen where he's had so much success or does he get put back into the fold to be a starter?
Brian Cashman has already said that the organization sees Hughes as a starting pitcher, and the only reason he's in the bullpen is because of his innings limit and to fill in due to the various injuries.
Last season, the Yankees felt as if they had stretched out Joba Chamberlain enough before re-inserting him into the starting rotation, but lost him to the DL in August with shoulder soreness.
Some people thought that after over a year of coming out of the bullpen, trying to push Chamberlain to throw 80 or even 90 plus pitches was too much for his arm. The argument is that Chamberlain has the make-up of a starting pitcher with at least four different pitches in his arsenal, and keeping him in the bullpen would almost be a waste.
Then again, there is the argument that the Yankee bullpen would be a lot stronger with Chamberlain setting up for Rivera based on the numbers he put up as a set up man. The argument could be the same for Hughes.
He has the make-up of a starter, but at times has showed that like Chamberlain, he has difficulty being economic with his pitch count, resulting in him not lasting past the fifth inning. A starter is supposed to be durable enough that they can pitch six or seven innings per start, not barely make it to the fifth inning.
The Yankees are going to need to do some serious thinking where Phil Hughes is concerned. Keeping him in the bullpen might be what's really best for the team, instead of trying to push him into the rotation because that's where they initially said he belonged.
It just might be better for the Yankees to say they were wrong in this particular case, and not try and make Hughes into a starter at this point. He's helping the team win games and having great success as a reliever, so why mess with a good thing?
Mariano Rivera started out in the organization as a starter and got moved to the bullpen for one reason or another. It's a safe bet that no one in the Yankee organization regrets leaving Mo in the bullpen, and Hughes has a shot at being really successful in his current role if the Yankees would leave well enough alone.