ANATOMY OF A PHIL HUGHES/YANKEE LOSS

                                                                                       Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

You’ve probably read and/or seen by now that Phil Hughes pitched a gem on Friday against the Rays – except for that one pitch, a three-run homer hit by Matt Joyce to provide the winning margin in a 3-2 Rays win over the Yankees. Rarely do you have such a clear-cut example of a pitcher (catcher? pitching coach?) making a game-losing mistake on pitch selection. But make no mistake: Hughes inability to throw (or want to throw) a curve ball for a strike with two strikes on Joyce was the reason the Yankees lost and the Rays won.

THE HOME RUN ITSELF

Matt Joyce hit a 2-2 fast ball for a three-run homer to win the game for the Rays. But, as often happens, there was a lot going on before the pitch to set up Joyce’s home run. In Joyce’s first at-bat, Jorge Posada put his target down and in to the lefty Joyce for a 1-1 fastball that was thrown up and slightly away. Joyce couldn’t get around on it and hit a pop foul back behind home to Posada. The second time up, Joyce swung at a first-pitch curve ball and grounded out weakly to first.

So, in his third at-bat, when Joyce swung at a 2-1 curve ball for strike two and then blasted the 2-2 fastball into the right field seats for a three-run homer, both Yankee announcers Tino Martinez and John Flaherty noticed that Posada called for it down and in and Hughes missed his spot and threw it up and slightly away. They both commended Matt Joyce for hitting a homer on a high fastball, both saying it’s a difficult thing to do.

And they were both right. But it was almost the identical pitch that Joyce had popped up (foul) to Posada in his first at-bat. So, what was the difference?

THE BEAUTY OF BASEBALL

This is just another reason why baseball is the most fascinating, most nuanced game. In the prior inning, Tampa Bay’s Reid Brignac was facing Hughes and, with the count 3-2, Hughes threw him FOUR fastballs in a row, striking him out (called, very close pitch) on the final fastball. Next batter, Jason Bartlett, with the count 2-2, saw FOUR fastballs in a row, flying out to center to end the fifth inning. If you didn’t know by then that Phil Hughes was throwing fastballs with the count 2-2 or 3-2 to Rays’ hitters, you did after those two batters. So, what do you think Matt Joyce was looking for when he was facing Hughes in the next inning with the count 2-2? That’s why he was able to turn on a pitch he couldn’t turn on in his first at-bat.

Fascinating stuff, no?

WHAT ABOUT THE EARLIER PART OF THE GAME?

Excellent question. If you followed this the whole game, you would have come to the same conclusion. With the count 2-2 or 3-2 to Rays’ hitters prior to the Joyce home run, Phil Hughes threw fastballs on 13 of the 15 pitches he threw in that situation. Overall, with two strikes and any count (0-2, 1-2, 2-2 or 3-2), Phil Hughes threw fastballs on 19 out of 26 pitches. But EVERY curveball he threw with two strikes on a batter was a ball, in the dirt and/or out of the zone (Carl Crawford swung at one for a strikeout in the third inning).

So, you didn’t have to be a brain surgeon or a batting coach to have a real good sense of what Phil Hughes was going to throw Matt Joyce on a 2-2 count in the sixth inning on Friday.

WHAT DID JOYCE AND HUGHES SAY ABOUT THE PITCH?

More interesting stuff. Joyce was very subtle, simply telling MLB.com that “I just put a good swing on a pitch that was up.”

Hughes spoke in more detail to MLB.com: “It leaked over the plate and he didn’t miss it. To a lefty, lower is better for him, so I wanted to get it [near the] belt … . I’ll be thinking about that pitch for a while. I had some success earlier in the game going in there and I had thrown him a pretty good 2-1 curveball the pitch before that and I felt like it was the right pitch. HE GUESSED RIGHT. That’s the bottom line.” (emphasis supplied).

Ah, but WHY DID HE GUESS RIGHT? You know why – because Phil Hughes had thrown very few curveballs with 2-2 or 3-2 counts the entire night. And NONE for strikes. So Phil Hughes and the Yankee coaching staff will have to look at this game and see the pattern – and fix it.

INTERESTINGLY, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE NEXT BATTER?

Willy Aybar was the next batter after the Joyce homer and would be Phil Hughes’ last batter. With the count 3-2, Phil Hughes threw an excellent hook right over the plate that froze Aybar for a called strike three. A tremendous pitch and the first two-strike curveball that Hughes had thrown for a strike all night long.

While one can never know what would have happened if Hughes had thrown a 2-2 hook to Matt Joyce, suffice it to say that it would have been virtually impossible for him to hit such a pitch out of the park.

WHERE DOES PHIL HUGHES GO FROM HERE?

If Phil Hughes wants to get to that next level as a major league pitcher (stardom), he’s going to have to have the ability (guts? confidence?) to throw a breaking ball with two strikes on a hitter over the plate for a strike, not in the dirt hoping that someone will swing at it. When he starts to do that consistently, he will win games like Friday’s against the Rays, rather than losing them.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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One response to “ANATOMY OF A PHIL HUGHES/YANKEE LOSS

  1. Pingback: Kallas Remarks: Making Hughes Steps « CBS New York- News, Sports, Weather, Traffic and the Best of NY

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