Phil Hughes is Making Life Difficult

Hughes gives Mariners enough to end their 17-game losing streak

By Josh Alper
|  Thursday, Jul 28, 2011  |  Updated 8:18 AM EDT
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Phil Hughes is Making Life Difficult

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The search for pitching answers hasn't ended with Hughes.

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If someone sat you down before Wednesday afternoon's game with the Mariners and told you that Phil Hughes would leave the game after six innings trailing Felix Hernandez 2-1, you would probably feel pretty good about that result.

After all, this was the same Hughes who couldn't even get through the fifth inning of Friday night's game with Oakland despite being staked to a 12-run lead after three innings. Almost anything would be better than that, but two runs in six innings fits the textbook definition of a quality start -- so it is a rousing success, right?

Joe Girardi said as much after the game. "If Hughes is going to give up two runs in six innings every time I’ll sign up for that."

Hughes was pretty much the same pitcher on Wednesday that he was when the A's took him to the woodshed for seven runs last Friday night. His velocity was unimpressive, his command of his pitches was almost nonexistent and it is hard to imagine him getting through three innings with that kind of stuff against even a league average offense instead of the Mariners.

Girardi knows that and he knows that Hughes isn't likely to keep giving up two runs in six innings pitching this way. Anybody would take those end results, but they'd also know that you can't count on them with a pitcher like Hughes.

He wasn't the sole reason the Yankees lost 9-2 to a team that hadn't won in 17 games. The bullpen was awful, so was the defense, and the offense didn't take advantage of chances Hernandez gave them to score runs early in the game.

But Hughes is the only reason for the loss that can potentially be replaced without much effort. The Yankees are still talking to other teams about trades for pitching and even modest acquisitions like Hiroki Kuroda of the Dodgers would be a huge upgrade from what Hughes has offered the team this season.

Hughes's relative success since returning from the disabled list feels much more like a high-wire act than the numbers -- two runs allowed in three of four starts -- would suggest. Almost every out feels like a gift and you wonder how much longer the Yankees can go on with a pitcher like that in their starting rotation.

Ivan Nova will almost certainly start one of the games in Saturday's doubleheader and if he pitches well, there will be calls for him to replace Hughes in the rotation. If he doesn't and if the Yankees haven't made a deal before then, there will be an even bigger outcry to bring in help from outside the organization.

The Yankees were hoping Hughes would return and solidify the rotation. All he's done is muddy the picture even more than it was before.

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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