Phil Hughes Better, But Doubts Remain

First start since April shows work still needs to be done.

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Jul 7, 2011  |  Updated 10:05 AM EDT
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Phil Hughes Better, But Doubts Remain

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It takes a village to fix a pitcher.

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When Phil Hughes took the mound to start the first inning, there was immediate reason to think that nearly three months on the disabled list did him some good.

His fastball was clocked at 92 mph, well above what he managed in his three disastrous April starts and a strong sign that whatever dead arm issues were troubling him had disappated.

Those warm feelings didn't last very long, however. 

Hughes walked the first batter and then gave up two straight hits to bring home Cleveland's first run. A wild pitch and throwing error led to a second run and Hughes was pretty lucky to escape without further damage in a 32-pitch first inning that began to lay out the work that still needs to be done.

Hughes's fastball had better velocity, but it was straight as an arrow and heading right over the middle of the plate more often than not. His command of his breaking pitches wasn't much better and each of his five innings featured runners on base and danger in the air.

That Hughes avoided allowing more runs is a nice thing, but it doesn't do much to alleviate concerns about his stuff being good enough to consistently succeed in the big league rotation. He generated just two swinging strikes in the entire outing and his velocity trended steadily downward over the course of what wound up being a relatively short evening of work.

He didn't need to allow any more runs than those first two to wind up a loser as Justin Masterson dominated the Yankees over eight shutout innings. He allowed just three hits, one of them to Derek Jeter who comes home three hits shy of 3,000, and flashed velocity in the upper 90's that must have made the Yankees jealous.

The 5-3 final makes it seem like some shoddy relief pitching cost the Yankees a win, but that ignores the fact that the Indians would have gone right to closer Chris Perez in a close game instead of allowing Vinnie Pestano to give the Yankees some hope in the top of the ninth. Perez wound up slamming the door and the Yankees lost their first series since early June.

Hughes' issues will go on the backburner for a while since he doesn't pitch in the last series before the All-Star break and the Jeter chase won't offer much space to anyone else. That's probably a good thing as he's clearly still a work in progress that needs help before trying to get big league hitters out again.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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