Friday, July 24, 2015

Remembering Yankees of the Past: Phil Hughes

Phil Hughes starts tonight against the team that drafted and developed him as a member of the Minnesota Twins giving us an opportunity to look back and remember a Yankee of the past. Hughes was a member of the Yankees big league club from 2007 through the 2013 season after being drafted by the club in the 2004 MLB First Year Players Draft. Hughes had a lot of good times in New York and he had a lot of bad times with the Yankees leading to the team allowing him to walk to Minnesota via free agency. Hughes will be a Twins player tonight when these two teams face off head-to-head but at least for now we’ll remember his time as a Yankee.

Hughes was drafted 23rd overall by the Yankees in that 2004 MLB Draft and was immediately assigned to the Rookie Gulf Coast League Yankees. Hughes was committed to Santa Clara University before the Yankees came calling and drafted him with the compensation pick they received when Andy Pettitte left for the Houston Astros. Hughes got his feet wet in 2004 before splitting time with the Charleston Riverdogs and the Tampa Yankees in 2005, his first professional career, posting a 9-2 record with a 1.24 ERA immediately skyrocketing him into one of the premier top prospects in all of Major League Baseball. Hughes would go on to win the Kevin Lawn Pitcher of the Year Award in 2006 donning him as the top Yankees minor league pitcher before taking over as the Yankees #1 prospect in 2007. Hughes was also arguably the best pitching prospect in all of minor league baseball which warranted him an invitation to spring training that season and eventually a call up to the Bronx in April of 2007.

The MLB debut for Hughes against the Blue Jays in 2007 was something to be forgotten but in his second start the right-hander took a no hitter into the 7th inning against the Texas Rangers before a hamstring injury cut his start, and season, short. Hughes would be out for much of the 2007 season as he was limited to just 17 starts where he posted a 5-3 record with a 4.46 ERA as a rookie. Hughes pitched twice in the playoffs that season including earning a victory in a start where he relieved an injured Roger Clemens getting New York their only victory of the series with the Cleveland Indians.

The 2008 season, the season where the Yankees spent all offseason pondering over whether to include Phil Hughes and one of Joba Chamberlain or Ian Kennedy in a deal that would have sent Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana to the Bronx. The long and the short of it was that Santana went to the Mets for a lesser package than what Minnesota was asking of New York and Hughes was back in pinstripes and back in the starting rotation in 2008. Hughes started the season with a 0-4 record in six starts with a 9.00 ERA before being placed on the disabled list with a strained oblique and a cracked rib. While sitting out until September with the injury Hughes visited an optometrist and started wearing glasses while pitching on the mound. Hughes was recalled in September after leading the Scranton Wilkes-Barre RailRiders to an International League title in Triple-A but Hughes was unable to improve on his 0-4 season as he finished with a 6.62 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 34 innings and eight starts.

Hughes began the 2009 season in Triple-A after heading down to the Arizona Fall League over the winter to build innings and arm strength but was not long for the minor leagues as a Chien-Ming Wang injury led Hughes back to the Bronx. Hughes managed a 3-2 record with a 5.45 ERA in seven starts before being moved to the bullpen when Wang returned from the disabled list. Hughes became the primary setup man for Mariano Rivera and flourished there due to injuries to Brian Bruney and Damaso Marte. Hughes led the Yankees team to the postseason and eventually the World Series collecting his first World Series ring as a member of the Yankees. Hughes success in 2009 led to him being bumped back into the rotation in 2010 as the team’s fifth starter and for the second time in his career Hughes responded by taking a no-hitter deep into a contest. Hughes would give up a single to the Oakland Athletics third baseman Eric Chavez to end the no-hit bid but his success didn’t stop there in 2010.

Hughes had a pair of five-game winning streaks as a starter in 2010 and earned his first All-Star Game appearance with the Yankees. Hughes finished the season with 18 wins in 2010 to just eight losses and pitched to a 4.19 ERA due in large part to 6.48 runs of support, the highest in MLB that season, from the Yankees offense. Hughes was back in the rotation to start the 2011 season but was also unfortunately back on the disabled list that same season after suffering from dead arm syndrome. Hughes was also battling shoulder inflammation and made only three starts before sitting on the DL until July. Back stiffness caught up to Hughes shortly after his return and he was once again delegated to the bullpen by Brian Cashman where he remained for the rest of the 2011 season.

Hughes avoided arbitration in 2012 with the club and signed a one-year deal worth $3.25 million plus incentives to be the team’s third starter. Hughes bounced back from a disappointing 2011 season with a strong 16-13 record after a tough 1-3 start with a 7.88 ERA in his first four starts of the season. Hughes finished with a 4.19 ERA and 165 strikeouts in 191.1 innings in 2012 before another bout with back stiffness ended his 2012 season in the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers. The 2013 season was the final season in pinstripes for Hughes and he began the season with a bulging disc in his back and a DL stint. Hughes pitched to a 4-13 record and a 4.86 ERA in 2013 before being removed from the starting rotation and inserted back into the bullpen. Hughes became very home run prone and hated pitching in New York, which was evident by his 1-10 record inside Yankee Stadium in 2013, thus ending his tenure as a Yankee on a sour note.

Hughes bounced back in 2014 with the Minnesota Twins after the Yankees let him walk in free agency and has been better of late this season for the Twins. No matter what happens tonight and no matter what happens going forward Hughes will always be the one that could have been and the one that ultimately got away in New York. Good luck tonight Phil, but not too much luck. 

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)