It has been all over the headlines in New York—Phil Hughes has no velocity. It is almost as if the A.J. Burnett of last season switched bodies with Hughes.
There were supposed to be three questions going into this season for the Yankees and Hughes was not one of them. He won 18 games last season and was invited to the Mid-Summer Classic so he must have been doing something right.
Even when he was the setup man for the better part of the second half of the 2009 season, Hughes was throwing smoke. His fastball had life and would hover in the mid-90s.
Now, after three pathetic starts, Hughes has touched 92 MPH one time if we are lucky. His fastball is straight and looks like BP to these big league hitters. His 0-1 record—which could have been 0-3 at this point—and his 13.94 ERA are almost unimaginable.
Where is the Hughes we all knew?
In order for Phil to return to glory and become the constant we all were looking for, Hughes needs to make some adjustments.
All pitchers know that once the ball leaves your hand, the pitch is far from over.
In order to get the velocity you desire and to have movement on our pitches, you must go from North to South and not East to West. That is exactly what Hughes is doing.
He is putting the breaks on his pitches by following through right to left. He needs to continue toward the plate, almost touching his hand to the pitchers mound which would allow his right leg to follow all of the way through.
During the Yankees broadcast on YES, Al Leiter made this exact same diagnosis. As a pretty darn good pitcher himself, listening to him might not be such a bad idea.
Power comes from your legs when you pitch. You need a strong core and lower half to get the velocity on your pitches that you desire. When you do not follow through and continue moving toward the plate, you do not allow your legs to provide the extra thrust you need to get those few extra MPH.
Hughes looks defeated on the mound. He is trying not to fail instead of knowing he will succeed. If he does not believe in his stuff then no one will.
He has that same look on his face that Burnett did last season. He was expecting to fail.
You can not let that kind of doubt enter your mind, especially as a pitcher. It is essential that you have a short memory and do not let one bad pitch compound into a bad inning.
Hughes needs to find that fire again. He needs to move on from his struggles and pitch to his ability. We all know what he is capable of, but he must believe in himself.
Establishing the inner half of the plate is essential to the success of a big league pitcher. If you do not show a hitter that you have no problem coming inside, they will not respect you and will move closer to the plate to eliminate the outside corner.
Throwing a little chin-music every once in a while is not necessarily a bad thing. Just ask some of the greats like Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan.
Hughes has a cutter that can be his out pitch. If moves away from righties and into the hip of lefties. If he does not establish the inner half of the plate, especially to righties, his cutter becomes useless. Just ask Nick Markakis. He took a 86 MPH cutter yesterday and crushed it into the right field seats.
Quite the fuss was made over Hughes and his utilization of his changeup this offseason, but that is not the real issue here. The changeup will not be effective if Hughes does not own the inner half of the plate.
No one is saying that Hughes needs to plunk a few batters, but showing the grit to challenge a hitter inside would go a long way.
Hughes' stuff works off of his fastball. Without it, he is nothing. But as much as we would love to see the radar gun showing 95 MPH, that might not be a reality. If his velocity doesn't return, he needs to begin to outthink hitters.
Greg Maddux didn't have over powering stuff, but he might be an extreme example. Regardless, not all pitchers throw in the upper 90s. We all loves the Felix Hernandezs and the Justin Verlanders, but they are not your everyday starter.
Hughes needs to work in more off-speed pitches and establish pinpoint accuracy. He needs to paint the black more and make hitters knees buckle when he drops his 12-6 curveball on them.
Out of the bullpen, he could get away with throwing heaters and trying to muscle is past hitters. As a starter, that is not always the answer.
Hughes has it in his repertoire to get the job down when his fastball is not effective. His stuff is that nasty, he just needs to start to believe in it.
After each pitch, Hughes gets the ball and works it between his hands. His forehead is wrinkled and his eyes are beady. If you don't check the channel, one could think you are watching someone try to nail that final world in the spelling bee.
Hughes needs to move on after his makes a pitch.
Burnett was doing the same thing last season. He would walk back to the rubber and stare at the ground and try to figure out what went wrong or why he didn't get a call he thought he deserved.
Hughes should take notes from Orioles starter Jake Arrieta. After each pitch, Arrieta would back peddle to the rubber and be ready to go. He was in a groove and was working fast. There was no thinking going on, no overanalyzing, he just took the ball and was ready to make his next pitch.
It worked for him as he held the Yankees hitless for nearly five innings last night.
Pitching is about confidence and believing in your abilities. When he does that, everything will fall into place.