When one looks at the line of Phil Hughes' start Monday night against the Boston Red Sox, they see five innings pitched, six hits, five earned runs, one walk, and three strikeouts. The big stat, however, was the two home runs, a solo job to David Ortiz and a three-run jack to the newly-rejuvenated J.D. Drew.
Ortiz was almost on the unemployment line in early May until he started to get hot. He has a .400 BA/.421 OBP/.771 SLG/1.192 OPS over the last two weeks.
J.D. Drew? What is this, a contract year for the Scott Boras client? Drew is really on fire, hitting in 13 of his 15 games played in May . After a terrible start, Drew is hitting .356 BA/.427 OBP/.621 SLG/1.048 OPS over the last month.
Although Drew is signed through 2011, it IS somewhat a contract year as Drew needs to play in 129 games in 2010 to get his full $14 million salary next season and not having to get $9 million of it deferred.
So many times, it is not who you play against, it matters when you play them. And these two lefty hitters are hot right now. Hughes ran into a left-handed hitting buzzsaw.
Both home runs were on cutters on the inner third of the plate, and were hit with authority by both left-handed hitters. Actually, both pitches were really in good spots, although Francisco Cervelli wanted the pitch to Drew a little higher. Both pitches were in tight on the hands, but were still hit hard.
This tells me the lefties in the Boston lineup were looking for that pitch, the inside cutter. Advanced Boston scouts probably noticed Hughes cutter is being thrown a lot, actually 28 percent of the time. Hughes' fastball is his best pitch right now, and that Hughes will go to the cutter at least once an at bat.
Versus lefties, that pitch is mostly coming inside. Last night's cutter was thrown to all hitters, but the lefties were keying on it.
Hughes faced nine left-handed hitters including Drew (three times), Victor Martinez (twice), Ortiz (twice) and Jeremy Hermida (twice). He threw cutters or fastballs on the inner half to these four guys 14 times and they swung at every single offering.
However, when outside fastballs were thrown, they were seldom swung at, mostly when they had two strikes on them and were fighting off the outside hard stuff.
The left-handed Red Sox hitters were looking for the inside cutter, and when they got it, they aggressively attacked it.
Hughes' cutter is good, but it doesn't have the same movement and depth of Mariano Rivera's cutter so when the lefty hitters were looking for it, it became a hittable pitch.
Even the right-handed hitters had some success. For example, Dustin Pedroia's great at-bat against Hughes a batter before the Drew home run ended when Hughes threw a cutter away and Pedroia pulled into the left field corner for a double.
Drew then came up and was looking for the inside cutter. In that at-bat Drew fouled an inside cutter, took a fastball strike outside, took a ball high, fouled off an outside fastball, then deposited the next pitch, that inside cutter, into the right field stands.
Before that inning, Hughes was great. He blew through the first two hitters until Drew fought him on a 10-pitch at-bat, before flying to center. Drew performed the same routine, swinging at every hard pitch inside but fouling off stuff away until he finally got an inside pitch he could put in play with authority.
Hughes made other mistakes against the Sox lineup.
The Adrian Beltre RBI single in the second was a high outside pitch which Beltre went the other way with. One of the biggest pitching no-no's is throwing fastballs up and away to a hitter who does not have the bat speed to handle good, inside hard stuff.
This only plays into the slower hitters hot zone.
Beltre does not have the bat speed anymore. That is his second opposite field RBI single against the Yankees, the first one on opening day versus David Robertson which tied that game at five. The chart says it was a single to center but it was hit past Robinson Cano into right center field.
That pitch was also a fastball out and up.
Hughes has a great fastball and a knee-buckling curve ball. He is throwing the fastball at 58 percent of the time in 2010, with the curve ball only 12 percent. He should use those pitches more often and back off the cutter a bit. Also, Hughes should mix in the change-up a little more. That pitch seems to get some extra swings and misses, and wasn't it the main reason why Hughes won the 5th spot inthe rotation?
Red Sox left-handed hitters were jumping on his hard stuff inside and playing the pitch count game on stuff away. It is only a matter of time before other teams begin to do the same.
So to left-handed hitters, Hughes needs to get ahead with hard stuff away, pitch inside for show, then get them out on low, hard stuff away. If lefty hitters then begin to look outside for fastballs, it will make his cutter more effective.
The league has adjusted to Hughes.
Now it is time for Phil Hughes to adjust back to the league.