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June 18, 2006

Phil Hughes: June 18th
by Fabian

Amidst a frustrating day at the major league level (for the record, given the situation I would have done what Joe did, though were I manager I wouldn’t have managed the way he did Saturday, or the rest of the season for that matter, to place himself in said situation), Phil Hughes was able to continue his dominating run. For the record, this run began when I went out to Trenton to watch him pitch, so I’m going to take all the credit for it. The final line for the 19-year-old right-hander on this day was 7-6-2-2-2-11-2 (IP-H-R-ER-BB-K-HR); so let’s see how he got there.

Despite the fact that he gave up a walk as well as a long solo home run in the first inning, from the start of the game it seemed as though Hughes had his good stuff. The home run, which was hit by the 2nd batter of the game, was followed by a strikeout on a down and in fastball. This was nice to see since Hughes had started the batter off 2-0 and, generally, seems to have some trouble regaining his focus immediately after something goes wrong. The next batter was walked on four pitches, but once again Hughes immediately came back from adversity, as he would strike out the final batter of the inning on 4 pitches with the knockout pitch being a curveball.

By the second inning, if you had any doubts that Hughes would be rolling, they vanished. The first batter of the inning was easily struck out on the 4th pitch of his plate appearance, a high fastball, the second batter was gone after 5 pitches, falling victim to the slider, and the third batter was caught looking on fastball on the outside corner of the plate. Hughes threw 13 pitches in this inning, 9 for strikes, and not once did bat meet ball. He was overwhelming.

The third inning continued the dominance as Hughes sandwiched a swing and miss strikeout on a high fastball as well as a groundout and fly out to the CF warning track around a base hit into RF. Fourth inning, more of the same; an easy fly out to RF, a strikeout swinging, and a pop up to 1B.

The fifth inning was a bit trickier. Hughes was behind in the count 2-1 to the leadoff batter and then gave up a double that was turned into a triple by Bronson Sardinha’s poor job of fielding the ball cleanly (Trenton Thunder OF defense, gotta love it). Hughes then comically overpowered the next batter and he swung and misses on three consecutive pitches. After this strikeout, Hughes’ very next pitch was lifted to RF for what appeared to be a sacrifice fly RBI, but Bronson Sardinha unleashed a good throw home and caught the runner advancing for an inning ending double play, atoning for his earlier misadventure and then some.

The sixth inning opened with the leadoff batter swinging at the first pitch and popping it to shallow CF for an out, except…drum roll please…defensive miscommunication by the 2B and CF led to the ball dropping for a base hit. The next batter sacrificed the runner over to 2nd after two pitches and then the batter after that lined the 3rd pitch of his plate appearance into LF for a base hit. At this point it appeared Hughes was in trouble. However, he called upon his Real Ultimate Power get back-to-back 4-pitch strikeouts. One was swinging and missing on a slider, the other swinging and missing on a fastball.

Hughes’ 7th and final inning was another that started off rough. The first batter of the inning worked Hughes to a full count and then deposited a solo home run over the LF wall. The second batter of the inning worked Hughes to a full count before drawing a walk on a high fastball. Hughes was then able to get his bearings following a sacrifice bunt as he struck out the next batter on three pitches thanks to a high fastball and got the final hitter to ground to SS on one pitch, a curveball, although J.T. Stotts nearly mishandled the ball.

On the day, Hughes threw 102 pitches, 65% for strikes. What was different about this game compared to the other Hughes AA outings I have tracked was that there seemed to be a better job of mixing up pitches. In previous starts it seemed as though Hughes was overly reliant on his fastball in general, throwing it around 70% of the time. Hughes was able to be effective because he located it well down and away and down and in, but even that was a questionable strategy as it allowed batters to get the ball in play because for the most part they could make a guess of the location and type of the incoming pitch. On this day, Hughes kept his number of change-ups and curveballs thrown consistent, but substituted sliders as well as elevated fastballs for some of those low in the strike zone fastballs he is so fond of. This led to an increased amount of strikeouts as batters weren’t able to get as comfortable in knowing what was coming and could not catch up to his high fastball or keep themselves from swinging and missing on his slider in to LH and away from RH.


Following Hughes in today’s game was J.B. Cox who was very impressive in his 1 inning of work. He was able to get ahead in the count with his fastball, which set up his slider. The result was one easy shutout inning and a few nice swing and misses on the slider.