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June 9, 2006

Phil Hughes: June 8th
by Fabian

As I was on my way out of work yesterday, I thought to myself, “Man, I can’t wait to get home and watch the Yankees game and track Phil Hughes’ Thunder game online”. I then thought about it some more “…wait…Jaret Wright is pitching tonight…do I really need to see this? Shouldn’t I take the opportunity to go see Phil Hughes in person?”. And with that, I was headed to Trenton, NJ.

I wanted to have radar gun readings and pitch by pitch details, but that didn’t happen for multiple reasons, such as the rainy weather that delayed the game and hour and 10 minutes, causing me to have to leave after 5 innings. After I left, Hughes would only go on to pitch 1 more inning, within which he allowed a ground ball single, but also got three ground outs. This was somewhat exemplary of Hughes’ night as from the start of the game he pounded the strike zone.

Though I don’t know the radar gun readings, Hughes’ velocity seemed pretty good based on the way he was popping the catcher’s mitt with his fastball. The sound and speed of the pitch was noticeably different than that of opposing starting pitcher, James’ Johnson. For those of you who haven’t seen Hughes pitch, this velocity is also very much effortless. Even in his short-tossing Hughes would kind of just let the ball go with a curl of his wrist and it would hit the catcher’s glove, making a considerable amount of noise in the process. The fastball was by far Hughes’ bread and butter pitch as he did a terrific job locating it down and away to hitters. When he tried to come inside his fastball command was not as precise and he also stayed away from elevating his fastball, which might have led to more strikeouts, but at the same time would have likely led to less easy groundball outs, which seemed to be the plan of action on this night.

For the most part, the Bowie hitters were overmatched by Hughes’ fastball as, subjective memory and all, I can remember very few, if any, occasions where the ball was ripped to the point where you thought “wow, he got that one”. Even the extra base hits Hughes gave up, the triple in the first and the double in the second; weren’t especially hard hit balls. The triple was a low liner past a diving Eric Duncan at 1B that Bronson Sardinha was just painfully slow on recovering from the RF corner while the double was a ball hit to LF that a superior defender than Shelley Duncan may have been able to keep a single.

The vast majority of Hughes’ pitches thrown were fastballs so I didn’t have much of an opportunity to view his curveball, slider, or change. However, as far as my perceived effectiveness of his secondary pitches within this brief viewing, I would say his curveball ranks behind the other two. Hughes was able to get hitters way out in front with the changeup, which made for a couple impressive swing and misses. The slider was used in on the hands of RHB and they would foul it off or take it for a strike as it broke back across the plate. The curveball seemed like somewhat of a show-me pitch at this point as, has been noted by others who have viewed Hughes’ starts, it seemed to be thrown with the intent of throwing it for strike. There were a few times he missed down in the zone with it and I couldn’t help, but think that perhaps if he threw it more when he was ahead in the count and out of the strike zone, he could generate some more swing and misses. Another thing about Hughes when it comes to the strike zone is that overall he is a pitcher who stays around the plate, so when he misses it tends to be on borderline pitches. As a result, I can see him as the type of guy whose numbers increase once umpires become more familiar with him as they will respect his command of the zone and give him those borderline calls.

Overall, I came away impressed by Hughes’ outing. He kept the ball down, threw hard, showed 3 quality pitches, and threw strikes all at the tender age of 19 and under less than ideal game conditions.