Phil Hughes finally made his return from the disabled list last night against the Cleveland Indians and allowed two earned runs on six hits, two walks and two strikeouts in five innings. He lowered his ERA from 13.94 to 10.57 for the season, but he has yet to erase many of the concerns that have plagued him.
The most important aspect of last night's start was Hughes ability to maintain his velocity throughout 87 pitches. He averaged 91.5 mph on his fastball last night, and he was able to max out at 93 mph. Earlier this season, he averaged 89.3 mph and topped out around 91 mph. However, he is still below his average of 92.6 mph last season and he did not record a swinging strike with the pitch last night.
Hughes also showed improvement with his cutter velocity against the Indians. The pitched averaged 88.5 mph last night, which is comparable to last season's average of 88.6 mph and an improvement over the 85.3 mph average earlier this season. However, also did not record a swinging strike with the pitch and he has only recorded two this entire season.
Most of the problems Hughes encountered last night were due to poor location with the pitches. His curveball and change-up were the best of the season, and his only two swinging strikes came on each one. However, his inability to record a swinging strike with his fastball to a left-handed hitter this season should worry some.
This was the first step in the right direction for Hughes, but the young right-hander needs to work on becoming a better command pitcher. His fastball is too straight, and when his command is off, his fastball becomes hittable.
Now Hughes can focus on working on his mechanics and command, instead of worrying and answering questions about his lack of velocity. He has three months of the regular season to turn his season around.