The New York Yankees are riding a wave of momentum heading back home up two games to zero over the Minnesota Twins. After relying on veterans CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte the first two games, the Yankees will be throwing 24-year-old Phil Hughes in hopes of closing out the series.
Hughes had an up and down year in 2010, although his statistics may indicate a more successful season. He finished the season 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in 176.1 innings.
The win-loss record jumps out first as 18 wins had him among the league leaders in the AL. However, Hughes benefited greatly from the Yankees offense and was able to win many games despite not having great outings.
Hughes began the year showing all the promise in the world as he carried a sub-three ERA into mid-June. After that his performance began to level off, whether it was a result of fatigue or adjustments made by opponents.
The Yankees were careful to watch his innings limit in his first full season as a starter. In April the Yankees certainly would have hoped to not use Hughes in the playoffs, instead opting for AJ Burnett or Javier Vazquez in this third starter role.
Unfortunately the poor performances by both of those players forced manager Joe Girardi to go with the young Hughes in the playoffs. I give Girardi a lot of credit for forgoing the veteran options and going with the pitcher who truly gives the team the best chance.
Now the pressure is on, Yankee Stadium in October and a spot in the ALCS on the line. For a young guy like Hughes the key will be his ability to control the emotions of the moment and focus them into his pitching. His fastball and curveball command must be spot on as the Twins hitters will no doubt be looking to take advantage of the friendly dimensions of Yankee Stadium.
Hughes is known as very laid back and that demeanor should help him here. There have been moments in the past where Hughes has seemed to be a little too amped up and he has lost control of the zone. In addition Hughes' performance as a reliever in last year's playoffs were shaky at best.
A good sign for Yankee fans may be Hughes' last start against the Red Sox where he matched Daisuke Matsuzaka inning for inning in probably his biggest start of the year.
If Hughes can build on his last start and find his command early the Twins may be looking at another sweep at the hands of the Yankees.