The best phrase to describe the pair of young pitchers in the Yankees rotation should be polar opposites. Despite both arriving on the Yankees MLB team, they took completely different roads to reach where they are today.
Most intriguing is how the trend has continued. One of them is making the most of his shot at the majors, and the other is making daily bids for his spot in the rotation.
Phil Hughes was the American, drafted young and coaxed along in the minors. He quickly became one of the top prospects in baseball, and he was the first name brought up with every trade rumor.
Some impressive starts, including a no-hitter through six innings, his second career start and the only playoff win for the Yankees, and he earned himself a spot in the rotation the next season.
This is where the wheels fall off. Despite being handed a rotation spot from the onset of spring training, he didn’t win a game and pitched to an ERA over 6 for the season. The year after that, he was 3-2 with a 5.45 ERA and had to beg the Yankees to keep him on the MLB team as part of the bullpen.
He found a lot of success in the bullpen. He posted an impressive 1.40 ERA and was a catalyst in helping the Yankees take the division in 2009. His successful run continued into last season when he was 10-2 with a 3.58 ERA into July.
The success didn’t last. Despite earning an All-Star Game appearance, he took the loss for the AL. His second half was mediocre at best with an 8-6 record and a 4.79 ERA.
It was even worse this season when he posted an ERA of 13.94 through 3 starts before being placed on the DL with a mysterious injury.
And then there’s Ivan Nova. He’s the antithesis of Phil Hughes. He had to earn every shot he’s gotten. Hughes was a first-round draft pick; Nova was an amateur free agent. Hughes was the deal breaker in every trade talk; Nova was lost to the rule 5 draft.
Hughes showed a lot of early success and followed it up with horrendous inconsistency; Nova had trouble getting deep into games but has blossomed into a fantastic starter.
He’s younger and less experienced than Hughes, but has already shown more promise at the MLB level. Still, it was Nova who was sent down to AAA to help make room for Phil Hughes to come off the DL. Despite the lost time, Nova still has the Yankees record for wins as a rookie pitcher.
Everything Phil Hughes has in the MLB has been given to him. He hasn’t earned his shot and he hasn’t shown the promise the Yankees saw in him. Whether it’s mechanics or mentality, he’s had a poor season. He’s had just five quality starts and still has an ERA of 6.75.
Unlike Hughes, Nova has had to work for everything. Early on during this past spring training, Nova declared he would win one of the rotation spots and it was up to the rest of the pitchers to earn it back. He backed it up with a great spring, including a no-hit bid against the Orioles.
He credits his turnaround to when he faced big league hitters in the Padres spring training camp. Even when he got sent back down to AA, he thought of himself as a big leaguer and started pitching like it.
Ivan Nova has a winning attitude that Phil Hughes needs to find. It’s not how you start out your career, it’s where you go from there.
While Nova continues to rack up wins for the Yankees, it’s Hughes who will be battling Bartolo Colon and AJ Burnett for a playoff roster spot.