It's easy to clown on Phil Hughes. He came up as a highly-touted prospect back in 2007, and he's spent much of his career with the New York Yankees not living up to the high expectations the organization had for him.
But on Sunday, it was all good. Hughes may not be an ace, but he certainly pitched like one in the Yankees' 5-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park.
The Yankees needed a big performance out of Hughes, as they were trying to earn a series victory and Justin Verlander was standing in their way. They probably went into the game hoping that Hughes could at least put up a fight against the reigning AL MVP and Cy Young award winner.
Hughes did a lot more than put up a fight. He flat-out beat Verlander, who gave up five runs (three earned) on nine hits and four walks in 6.1 innings of work. Hughes, meanwhile, went the distance, scattering four hits and three walks while striking out eight.
Hughes' efficiency was impressive. He never needed to throw any more than 18 pitches in any single inning (h/t Marc Craig of The Star-Ledger), and he mixed good fastball command with timely use of his offspeed stuff. His curveball, especially, looked a lot sharper than usual.
To boot, Hughes got stronger as the game went along, and you could tell he was feeling it in the late innings. He had some swagger going on, particularly after two late strikeouts of Miguel Cabrera, who torched the Yankees with a pair of home runs on Saturday.
The only blemish for Hughes was a solo home run off the bat of Prince Fielder in the fourth inning. It went pretty far, but it only counted as one. The Tigers were unable to put any rallies together in the final five innings of the game.
If you missed Hughes' gem, MLB.com has the video highlights.
In the end, Hughes walked away with a career first. ESPN Stats & Info came through with the knowledge:
It is indeed the 2nd career CG for #Yankees starter Phil Hughes, the first being of 9+ innings (had rain-shortened 6 IP CG in 2011)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 3, 2012
The question, obviously, is whether this will be the first of many. Has Hughes turned a corner?
For now, all I can say is maybe. It is worth noting, however, that Hughes has looked much sharper in his last five starts than he did in his first six starts. In those starts, he was 2-4 with a 6.67 ERA, not to mention a .283 opponents' batting average. In his last five starts, he's 3-1 with a 3.54 ERA and a .254 opponents' batting average. If it hadn't been for his stinker against the Los Angeles Angels on May 28, his numbers would look even better.
That start, by the way, earned Hughes my daily American League "Worst of the Night" award. For his start against the Tigers on Sunday, I am rewarding Hughes with my American League "Best of the Night" award.
To my recollection, Hughes is the first player to earn both awards this season. If so, well, that pretty much sums up the kind of season Hughes is having. The bright side is that things are looking up. With his 26th birthday just around the corner, Hughes might just be entering his prime as a pitcher.
It's about time.
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