Once considered the jewel of the Yankees' farm system, starting pitcher Phil Hughes, the man who dons the nickname "Phil Franchise", is coming off possibly the most disappointing season of his professional career.
In 2007, Hughes was ranked the #4 prospect in the minor leagues by Baseball America. Phil showed flashes of brilliance throughout the 2007 season, including pitching 6 1/3 no-hit innings at Texas in only his second MLB start. However, on an 0-2 curve ball to Mark Teixiera, Hughes pulled his hamstring and was shut down for essentially the remainder of the 2007 season. Hughes did come up huge for the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Cleveland Indians.
After Roger Clemens left the game in the third inning with a leg injury, Hughes relieved him and pitched 3.2 innings of shutout baseball. Hughes even qualified for the win--the Yankees' lone win in the five game series.
Hughes' playoff heroics made it appear as though he was poised for a strong 2008 campaign. He started the 2008 season as a member of the Yankees starting rotation. However, Hughes managed to pitch only 22 disappointing innings before being placed on the DL yet again, this time due to a strained oblique and cracked rib.
Hughes posted a 0-4 record, 9.00 ERA, and abysmal .362 BAA in those 22 innings, and looked every bit as bad as the numbers portray. The numbers left many Yankees fans who saw flashes of Hughes' brillance in 2007, puzzled.
During his stint on the DL, Hughes visited an optometrist, where he was determined to be nearsighted and given a perscription for lenses he was instructed to wear upon his return.
The results? Hughes seems to be back to his dominant ways. Upon his return, the Yankees decided Hughes would work out of their minor league affiliates, mainly AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre . Although Hughes struggled out of the gate, Hughes came up with one of the most dominating performances of his short career in the Governors' Cup semifinals against the Boston Red Sox affiliate, Pawtucket. Hughes pitched 8 innings, allowed no runs, 4 hits, and struck out 11. The Yankees ended up winning in the 10th inning, thanks to a Shelly Duncan walk-off home run, which, along with Hughes' sparkling performance, sent the Yankees to the Governors' Cup championship to face the Durham Bulls.
Duncan, who has seen Hughes pitch extensively on the minor and major league level, claimed it was "the best i've ever seen him pitch".
The Yankees, who have suffered from numerous injuries to their starting rotation this year, are hoping Hughes can translate that dominance back to the Major League level. In fact, they may need him to if they plan to contend with the powers that be in the AL East in the years to come.