Phil Hughes Stays on Comeback Trail

Strong start by Hughes ends three-game losing streak

By Josh Alper
|  Wednesday, May 23, 2012  |  Updated 8:18 AM EDT
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Phil Hughes Stays on Comeback Trail

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Now they're back to saying "Hughes" instead of "Boo".

Five starts into the season it looked like Phil Hughes had the same chance of staying in the Yankee rotation as Howard Hughes.

He couldn't keep the ball in the ballpark, hitters were rarely befuddled by his pitch choices and he couldn't get out of innings with the help of strikeouts. It was hardly the first appearance of these shortcomings and it became hard to understand why the Yankees were so committed to keeping him around.

Four starts later, just about everything has changed for Hughes. He's winning games and, as Tuesday's 3-2 win over the Royals showed, he's adjusted his approach.

Hughes throws three pitches at any point in an at-bat, a far cry from his old predictable fastball-curveball mix. It resulted in seven strikeouts on Tuesday and also led to more groundouts than fly balls, although Hughes still allowed a home run for the ninth straight start.

It has been a serious turnaround for Hughes and it has bumped him above Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda on the ever-changing pecking order of right-handed Yankee starters. Now he just needs to pass the word on how to change for the better to the team's hitters.

The Yankees were able to snap their long drought with runners in scoring position in the fifth inning. Naturally, it was a bunt single that made it happen.

Mark Teixeira doubled and Russell Martin got hit with a pitch to start the inning, setting up a logical sacrifice bunt opportunity for Dewayne Wise. The bunt was too good, though, and the single became the first hit with a runner in scoring position in far too long.

Derek Jeter followed with another single and Curtis Granderson's groundout scored another run, but that's where the fun ended. After Robinson Cano was intentionally walked, Alex Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez both struck out against Luke Hochevar to a chorus of boos from the crowd.

While it is hard to argue that Cano isn't a better hitter than A-Rod at present, it is still a bit jarring to see a team choose to load the bases before facing Rodriguez when they have someone as thoroughly mediocre as Hochevar on the mound. It's even more jarring to realize that it is absolutely the best move you can make against a player who has spent this season making it clear that time catches up with the best of sluggers.

Hughes' rapid transformation provides a little hope that things can be better, but every passing day brings us a little closer to the time we answer no to the question "Do you really think A-Rod's not going to start hitting?"

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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