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June 13, 2006

Phil Hughes: June 13th
by Fabian

Phil Hughes had the best start of his AA career tonight, as well as possibly the best start of his year all things considered. Hughes faced off against a middle of the road Eastern League offense, in the form of the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and easily worked his way through 7 shutout innings. Over the course of those innings, Hughes permitted just 1 hit and 3 walks while striking out 8.

From the early portion of the game, it was clear Hughes’ stuff was very much there tonight. As usual, he worked heavily off of his fastball, spotting it to both the inside and outside corners. During the first inning, he threw about two thirds fastballs, as he was not getting his secondary pitches called for strikes. This did not present much of a problem though as the New Hampshire hitters were not able to catch up to the fastball at all. Once the second inning rolled around, Hughes had a better feel for his secondary pitches, getting the opposition to swing and miss as well as getting calls from the umpires. As soon as that occurred, the game was just about over for the Fisher Cats.

Hitting Phil Hughes’ fastball is one thing, as it isn’t the most overpowering one in the world, though it IS very good. Hitting his fastball while worrying about his secondary pitches is another matter. I don’t want to rush to judgment and say this is all due to the official minor league umpires being back, but being that this was Hughes’ first start of the year with the real umpires as well as his first AA start where he seemed to be getting his curveball, slider, and changeup over for consistent strikes…it might be. If that’s the case, Hughes is going to roll.

All 3 walks Hughes gave up were on 3-2 counts and in all 3 at bats there was at least one 2-strike pitch where the call could have gone either way. Hughes has always exuded confidence and pride in his control during interviews and this came through in today’s game. During the 5th inning, a batter worked the count to 3 and 2 on Hughes for the third time in the game. The previous 2 times, he had walked the batter and attempting not to do so in this at bat, Hughes laid one in there that was hit hard, but caught for an out. The next time Hughes got to a 3-2 count he tried to throw a pitch that would be a little less hittable, but walked the batter instead. It was interesting to track this development in pitching strategy.

Overall, Hughes threw 103 pitches and 71 for strikes (68.9%). In a departure from previous starts of his at the AA level that I have tracked, Hughes threw a rough estimate of about 60% fastballs as compared to his usual 70-75%. The rest of his pitches were an even distribution of sliders, curveballs, and change-ups. The change-up was particularly effective tonight as the New Hampshire hitters were well ahead of the pitch having just attempted to catch up to Hughes’ fastball, which sat at about 92-93 tonight. Not to be outdone, the curveball and slider were very good pitches for Hughes tonight as well. This was just an all around excellent start, the second in a row for the 19-year-old right-hander.


J.B. Cox came on in relief of Hughes and was not nearly as dominant, but still got the job done. Cox worked primarily off of his slider, but struggled with his control after initially throwing strikes when getting into the game. This is a tough position for Cox to be in as the slider is his best pitch and being behind in the count forces him to use his fastball more than he would like, which on this night led to a walk as well as 3 balls being lined hard, though Cox did not allow a run.


On the offensive side of things, Eric Duncan had another impressive game. During his first at bat he worked the count to 2 and 1 before hitting a ball hard to LF. His 2nd plate appearance was a 4-pitch walk where none of the pitches were particularly close. During at bat 2, Duncan took a pitch low for a ball before ripping the next pitch down the 1B line, but unfortunately it was foul. The third pitch was low, the fourth high, and the fifth was hit hard, but at the CF for an out. Duncan’s 4th plate appearance was the only unimpressive one of the night as he took a ball low, swung and missed on a changeup, and then popped up to shallow CF.