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Saturday, August 10, 2013
For Hughes, there's no place like home

By Wallace Matthews

NEW YORK -- There's no longer any use in denying it: Phil Hughes and Yankee Stadium are a match made in hell.

Phil Hughes
Phil Hughes and Yankee Stadium don't go well together.
It wasn't always this way. Coming into this season, Hughes' record at Yankee Stadium 2.0 was 27-11, his ERA a serviceable 4.40. But the exceptional win/loss record was largely a result of a high-powered Yankees offense, something Hughes no longer has the luxury of enjoying, and the tell-tale stat was this: In spite of his respectable overall numbers, Hughes allowed a whopping 54 home runs in four seasons here and just 23 on the road.

This season, with the offense stripped down to virtually nothing, all of Hughes' flaws at Yankee Stadium are on full display every time he pitches at home -- the long, laborious counts, the lack of a swing-and-miss pitch and, most of all, the propensity to give up long fly balls that would likely be caught in other parks but turn into home runs here.

Consequently, Hughes has become two distinctly different pitchers in 2013, the one who is 3-3 with a 3.47 ERA on the road and the one who is routinely demolished at home. Saturday's outing, in which he lasted just 4⅓ innings and was charged with four earned runs -- including home runs by Miguel Cabrera and Austin Jackson -- in the Yankees' 9-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers. The loss ran his 2013 record at Yankee Stadium to 1-8, his ERA to a whopping 6.18. Of the 22 home runs he has allowed this season, 16 have come at Yankee Stadium.

Clearly, Hughes is a pitcher who is uniquely unsuited for pitching in the ballpark his team calls home.

"Being a fly ball pitcher, it makes it more difficult, there's no doubt about it," Joe Girardi said. "You think about right field and teams that have a lot of left-handed hitters, it makes it somewhat difficult. He has had a hard time, at times, keeping the ball down in the zone. Teams are putting long at-bats on him, and it's gotten him into trouble."

And even the seasons in which, on the surface, it appears Hughes has pitched well in the Bronx -- he was 11-4 here in 2012, when he went 16-13, and 11-4 here in 2010, when he went 18-8 -- his home run totals at Yankee Stadium were alarmingly high: 22 (as opposed to 13 on the road) in 2012, and 20 (as opposed to just five on the road) in 2010.

To his credit, Hughes refuses to use the ballpark as an excuse for his futility. "The bottom line is, I have to pitch better wherever we play," he said. "It [his record in the Bronx] is what it is, and I have to adjust to it."

Not for very much longer. Hughes is a free agent after this season, and the Yankees know these numbers even better than I do. No doubt, they will not bid to bring Hughes back, although they might make the $13.3 million qualifying offer in hopes of getting a draft pick as compensation. In the meantime, there is no indication Hughes is on the verge of losing his rotation spot; as Girardi said, "Well, right now, I don't know if we have any options, so we need him to pitch well. That's the bottom line."

It's not out of the question, of course. Provided Hughes pitches anywhere but at home.

Question: Would you ever start Phil Hughes at Yankee Stadium again? And, if not, who would you replace him with? (Remember, David Phelps, Michael Pineda and Vidal Nuno are currently injured.)