Yankees-Red Sox: Phil Hughes Give Playoff-Like Effort in 2-0 Shutout over Boston
During this week, the landscape of the New York Yankees starting rotation changed.
Ivan Nova returned off the DL, taking Freddy Garcia's spot.
Andy Pettitte will return from a two-month ankle injury and will take David Phelps' spot.
However, on Thursday night at Fenway Park, Phil Hughes took the ball for the Yankees, who needed to win to stay tied atop the A.L. East with the Baltimore Orioles, and gave them a magnificent performance.
In fact, given the circumstances of where we are in the season, I'd be willing to say Thursday night may have been Hughes' best performance of the 2012 season, tossing 7.1 shutout innings and guiding the Yankees to a 2-0 victory.
The win gave the Yankees another series victory over Boston, putting them at 10-5 over their long-time nemesis this season.
What really impressed me about Hughes was that he looked like the starter and pitcher everyone expected him to be.
He dominated with his fastball, got ahead, threw strikes and blew hitters away to get people out. And most importantly, he never self-imploded on the mound if anyone ever got on base.
For example, in the bottom of the fourth inning, Cody Ross singled to right, setting up first and third with two outs. Normally, Hughes would give up a big hit and let the Red Sox back in the game.
Not on Thursday. Hughes got Daniel Nava to ground out for the third out and kept Boston scoreless.
Then, in the bottom of the sixth inning, James Loney singled, setting up first and second with two outs. Gut check time again for Hughes.
Hughes got through again by getting Ross to fly out to end the inning.
Other than those two innings, Hughes simply overpowered the Boston hitters for 7.1 innings, allowing no runs over five hits; he walked one and struck out seven to pick up his 15th win of the season.
The 15 wins leads all Yankee starters in 2012, which is very impressive, considering CC Sabathia is usually the team leader in wins.
The Yankees didn't need much offense to beat Boston, as they got a sac fly from Andruw Jones that made it 1-0 in the top of the fourth and then an RBI single by Derek Jeter that made it 2-0 in the top of the seventh inning.
That was all the scoring the Yankees needed because the Boston bats were put to sleep by Hughes.
If, in fact the Yankees do make it to the postseason, Hughes may have just locked up the fourth spot in the Yankees rotation. In his last four starts, he's 3-1 with 23 strikeouts in 25.1 innings.
Hughes also lowered his ERA down to 3.96, which is pretty good considering his early struggles and an ERA that bordered around the 8.00 mark in May.
Having Hughes pitch like this down the stretch could not only increase the Yankees' chances of winning but also help them get to October.
And with Nova just getting off the DL, Hughes could force him to the bullpen once the playoffs start.
With 19 games left to play for the Yankees, they are going to need all the help they can get if they are going to beat the Orioles and win the A.L. East.
Having Hughes pitch like he did on Thursday will help that cause.
Stay tuned, Yankees Universe.
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