New York Yankees: 5 Reasons Phil Hughes Could Be AL East's “X-Factor”
Whether it was exceeding the expectations of fans or letting them down, the New York Yankees have left many surprised this season.
Hoping the bullpen would carry the team as the Yankees suffered from a weak starting rotation with Andy Pettitte and other pitching hopefuls declining to sign with the team, the Yankees were forced to attain the mediocre Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia.
However, the previous thoughts that the bullpen would prevail were proven wrong, as Rafael Soriano and Joba Chamberlain both suffered from injury.
With a struggling bullpen, the starting rotation shocked many as Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia each pitched to their full potential and brought the Yankees to multiple wins.
With injury plaguing many pitchers, the Yankees pitching has been up and down this season. The same goes for the offense as players have suffered through slumps while others prospered to their highest.
Only a few games behind the Boston Red Sox in the AL East standings, the Yankees need someone who can secure the first place position. With Phil Hughes returning to the pitcher's mound, he can be exactly what the Yankees are in need of. He can be their X-factor.
Here are five reasons why Phil Hughes could be the AL East's X-factor.
No. 5: Known to Be a Wild Card
We all remember 2006 Phil Hughes right? The rookie who was forced out of his six inning no-hitter because of a mid-game injury.
Well throughout the years, Hughes has been trying to find that pitcher, and we have gotten a glimpse of him many times before.
Throughout his five-year career, Hughes has been known to be a wild card, pitching reliable at times while unable to aid his team at others. When Hughes suffered from a pitching slump in 2008, posting a 6.62 ERA, manager Joe Girardi sent Hughes to the bullpen as a reliever, where he pitched impressively with a 3.03 ERA.
In 2010, Hughes was placed back in the starting rotation, pitching like his old self with a 4.19 ERA. That year he allowed 162 hits, 83 runs, 25 home runs and struck out 146 at-bat in 176.1 innings.
Beginning the season legendary, recording a 96 mph fastball and holding onto a 2.00 ERA in April, Hughes suddenly began to run out of gas after the first two months of the season.
He regained his strength but unfortunately lost it during the postseason, recording a 11.42 ERA.
If Hughes can pitch like he did in the beginning of the 2010 season then he will be able to swing the division race for the AL East. If not then the Yankees better find someway to advance in front of Boston.
No. 4: His Return Is Promising
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After taking months off to rest his shoulder, it is understandable for Hughes to be nervous when returning to the pitching mound at Yankee Stadium, which resulted in a decent yet promising performance.
With his fastball back, Hughes was able to strike out two hitters in the first five innings. He allowed only two runs, six hits and two walks, throwing 87 pitches.
Hughes faced a jam during the fifth inning when he hit Asdrubal Cabrera and Orlando Cabrera with a pitch.
Regardless, Hughes pitched well, and if it wasn't for Justin Masterson's unstoppable performance and the Yankees inability to produce runs, Hughes could have won the game. His ERA went from a 13.94 to a 10.57, and it will hopefully improve as the season continues.
No. 3: Better X-Factor Than the Rest
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Each baseball team has an X-factor. A player who can bring the team to victory despite any slumps, injuries or inconsistency's each player may have.
The promise Phil Hughes has shown in his last few starts and his ability to pitch consistently makes him the AL East's X-factor. Here are four pitchers from the AL East whose inability to pitch up to par makes Hughes an X-factor.
John Lackey, The Boston Red Sox
In John Lackey’s 10-year career, he has contributed miraculously to each team, aiding them to victory. He even led the MLB in ERA for the 2007 season with a 3.01. However, when John Lackey joined the Boston Red Sox last season, he was unable to keep the consistent momentum he had many years prior.
In 215 innings pitched, Lackey maintained a 4.40 ERA, allowing 233 hits, 114 runs and 18 home runs, striking out 156. Many had hoped Lackey would adjust and improve this season, but he has only performed worse.
In 79 innings pitched, Lackey maintains a disappointing 6.84 ERA, with his team making it first in the standings without his help.
Matt Garza could have been the Tampa Bay Rays X-Factor this year, as many hoped the pitcher would return to his 2007-self where he posted a 3.70 ERA.
Unfortunately, that was not the case this season. Garza has posted a 4.26 ERA so far allowing 94 hits, 54 runs and seven home runs in 95 innings pitched.
Brandon Morrow is known for producing ace stuff, especially when on the Seattle Mariners. Unfortunately, Morrow was never able to recapture his 2008-self where he posted a 3.34 ERA.
Right now Morrow maintains a 4.60 ERA, the worst in his five-season career. Morrow did not turn out to be the X-factor many hoped he would be.
Brian Matusz has had a consistent career. The 24-year-old has posted a decent ERA for the 2009 and 2010 seasons. Expected to improve and hopefully be the X-factor that would get the Orioles out of the last place position.
Unfortunately, Matusz has done the exact opposite. The pitcher pitched poorly this season, posting a ridiculous 8.77 ERA. He came off of the DL from a rib cage injury and has still been unable to fully overcome the injury.
No. 2: He Has His Fastball Back
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Phil Hughes knew there was something wrong with his arm and it wasn't pain or stiffness that told him that, it was the decrease in speed of his fastball.
With his fastball barely reaching the 90's, this was a major issue for the pitcher who usually registers his fastball around the mid-90's. After allowing 13 runs in only three starts, Phil Hughes was placed on the disabled list.
Throughout his recovery, Hughes aimed towards regaining his velocity, a goal he achieved.
Hughes's killer fastball began to return as he pitched for the Staten Island Yankees weeks before his July 6th return to the pinstripes. On the night of his Bronx return, Hughes proved those who doubted him wrong, as his fastball returned with both velocity and force.
The first inning was the last time Hughes reached 93 mph fast ball, however throughout most of the game Hughes registered in the low 90's, a good sign for the starting pitcher.
Unfortunately, with the offense unable to score runs against the dominate Justin Masterson and Sergio Mitre allowing two runs while Boone Logan allowed one, Hughes unfortunately lost his first game back.
Despite the loss, Hughes pitched well and has regained his fastball, allowing him to be an X-factor for the Yankees.
No. 1: Recharged After Relaxation and Rehab
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What exactly happened to Phil Hughes's arm remains a mystery. Yes, he had shoulder inflammation causing his dead arm, but what was the actual cause of his decrease in velocity?
Whatever the reason was, it seems to be solved, as Phil Hughes has regained his velocity back and is now able to strike out hitters with his fastball.
Maybe months of strength exercises and relaxation is just what the pitcher needed to pitch like he did in April 2010. His injury could be seen as a blessing in disguise, as Hughes may be able to become AL East's X-factor by helping to put the Yankees in the first place position ahead of Boston.
In his first rehab start with the Staten Island Yankees, Hughes pitched in 4.1 innings, throwing 61 pitches. He allowed only one run and three hits, allowing his fastball to reach 95 mph.
The successful rehab start did not end there. In his Trenton Thunder appearance, Hughes pitched in 6 1/3 innings allowing only three hits, one earned run, two walks and struck out eight at-bats, throwing 88 pitches.
Hughes actually reached a comfortable 94 mph with his fastball and remained in the mid-90's range throughout most of the game.
Months of relaxation and exercises have definitely paid off for Hughes. With his velocity back, his confidence re-installed and his ability to quickly eliminate players at-bat, Hughes is the AL East's X-factor.