Once considered a future cornerstone of the Yankee rotation, Phil Hughes may be running out of time to impress in the Bronx.
His 2007 rookie season, as a 20-year-old, started brightly, as he no-hit the Texas Rangers into the seventh inning in his second career start, before leaving the game with a hamstring injury and the no-hitter still intact.
That was on May 1 and he wouldn't pitch again that year until August. Hughes would return, but produced inconsistent results down the stretch, His August was a disaster, but was followed by a stellar September.
He showed enough to win a rotation slot in 2008, along with fellow youngster Ian Kennedy. The Yankees youth experiment would fail spectacularly, as Hughes and Kennedy proved that they weren't ready to be major league starters.
Hughes impressed enough to win another shot at the Yankee rotation early in 2009 and he was given seven starts in April and May. Unfortunately, it was more of the same, as he was hit hard and allowed far too many base runners while posting a 5.45 ERA.
The Yankees moved Hughes to the bullpen and it was there that he rediscovered his confidence and electric stuff. Hughes was a revelation as a reliever,
In 44 relief appearances that year, he went 5-1 with a 0.857 WHIP and a 1.40 ERA. Over 51.1 innings, he struck out 65, walked only 13 and held opponents to a .172 average with a stellar .456 OPS against him. He was an integral arm down the stretch in the Yankees march to the postseason in which they'd eventually win World Series title number 27.
When 2010 arrived, the Yankees once again made Hughes a starter and he finally grabbed the opportunity afforded him. With a stellar first half, he pitched his way to his lone All-Star berth. Before the mid-summer break, he went 11-2 with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP.
Though he would falter down the stretch, with his ERA and WHIP ballooning to 4.90 and 1.34 respectively, Hughes' 2010 was seen as a step forward and hopes for his future were revitalized. At 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA, he had finally become a solid big league starter and the Yankees hoped that greater things were to come.
Those hopes were to be short-lived as Hughes' 2011 was a disappointment from the start. In three April starts, Hughes was a disaster, managing only 10.1 innings total over those outings. He allowed 19 hits, only struck out three and gave up 16 earned runs for a 13.94 ERA. Hughes was hit hard, allowing an opponents batting average of .396 and an OPS of 1.121. Opposing hitters slugged .688 against him that April.
Shortly thereafter, Hughes was diagnosed with mysterious arm fatigue, with no apparent physical damage to blame for his lost velocity and complete lack of effectiveness.
Whatever ailed him kept him off a big league mound until July 6, when he returned to the Yankee rotation after almost three full months away. Hughes was decent upon his return, but inconsistent at best.
His July and August were unimpressive, as he posted a 5.48 ERA then a 5.08 mark. Hughes closed out the year strong, posting a 1.48 ERA in September, offering a glimmer of hope that he might be ready for a strong 2012.
The 2012 season began brightly as Hughes produced a fantastic Spring Training performance and once again won a spot in the Yankee rotation. It was a critical victory for Hughes, as the Yankee starting staff was suddenly crowded with newcomers Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda vying for jobs and the eventual return of Andy Pettitte promising to make the competition difficult.
Pineda suffered a shoulder injury in spring and Pettitte signed late so he required more time to ready his arm to pitch. Those factors allowed Hughes a slight cushion with which to work, giving him at least April and likely part of May to solidify his rotation spot.
Unfortunately, Hughes has yet to do anything to secure a job once the other hurlers return. He may be running out of time to impress the Yankee brass, not only for his immediate future, but for his long-term future with the team. Hughes will be a free agent after 2013, and if he doesn't produced a stunning and immediate turnaround, it's not difficult to envision the Yankees letting him walk.
Phil Hughes just concluded his second start of the season, a disappointing outing against the Angels, in which he didn't survive the fourth inning. In 3.1 laborious innings, he allowed eight hits, two walks and six earned runs. Though he struck out six batters in the shortened start, he once again left too many pitches over the heart of the plate and was punished by the Angels' hitters.
His first start wasn't nearly as bad, as he pitched 4.2 innings, allowing only two runs on five hits and two walks. It was inefficiency that did him in then too, as he threw 99 pitches in the outing and didn't survive the fifth inning. Though he was decent, he was tagged with the loss in the 3-0 defeat.
Overall, in two starts, he has managed to throw only eight total innings, in which he has allowed 13 hits, four walks and eight earned runs, for an ERA of 9.00.
Of course, two starts would normally not be enough to indict a pitcher, but in Hughes' case, we've seen all of this before. High pitch counts, short outings and extra base-hits have dogged the starting career of the one-time first round draft pick.
Perhaps serving to illustrate Hughes' lack of effectiveness and his tenuous hold on a rotation spot, Yankee rookie David Phelps cleaned up his mess in the latest start against the Angels, looking like an able replacement if need be. In relief of Hughes, Phelps tossed 5.1 masterful innings, allowing only one run on one hit and two walks while striking out four.
Phelps is not the immediate threat to Hughes' status as a starter however. The aforementioned return of Pineda, whom the Yankees' acquired for elite prospect Jesus Montero, will undoubtedly get a shot to start once he is deemed fit. Also, Andy Pettitte did not come out of retirement to pitch out of the bullpen. If he is anything like the the pitcher we are familiar with, he is virtually guaranteed a rotation spot.
The point is, Hughes needs to rattle off a string of impressive outings, beginning with his next start, which will likely be against the Red Sox next weekend.
With the impending arrival of two talented starters, both Hughes and Freddy Garcia will be looking over their shoulders quite a bit over the coming weeks.
Garcia is a veteran journeyman, only signed through this year with the Yankees. Hughes however, is a former first round pick by the club and they are the only organization he's ever known. It is highly likely that he would like that relationship to continue beyond his current contract, but there is nothing guaranteed based upon his track record.
With only a successful 2009 stint as a reliever, and a stellar half of 2010 as a starter on his resume, the Yankees very well could cut their losses and let him move on once his free agency arrives following next season.
If Phil Hughes expects to remain in the 2012 rotation and with the Yankees beyond 2013, he must give the club reason to afford him those opportunities...beginning immediately.