Commentary

Hughes not right for pinstripes

The bandbox Bronx and tough AL East wreak havoc on Phil Hughes, again

Updated: June 2, 2013, 9:04 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- The dream was that Phil Hughes would be the centerpiece by now. The reality is he is not a piece that fits very well in the Bronx.

Hughes is not built for the AL East rigors or the $1.5 billion ballpark the Yankees sold out on Saturday for the second time this season. It is not that Hughes is terrible. He can be an effective major league starter.

In fact, if he ends up in San Diego or San Francisco or somewhere else in the NL after free agency this season, there will be critics who might end up wondering why the Yankees let him go.

Phil Hughes
Al Bello/Getty ImagesPhil Hughes dropped to 20-21 in his career against the AL East with Saturday's loss to the Red Sox.

If the Yankees do -- and my guess here, at this point, is that they will -- it will be because of nights like Saturday, when he seems out of place against an AL East lineup and the homer-friendly dimensions of Yankee Stadium.

At 26, Hughes still doesn't have enough consistent diversity to his repertoire. He had a plus-fastball on Saturday but leaned on it too much, and, ultimately, it led to his undoing against a Boston Red Sox team that has scored the third-most runs in baseball.

After being up 0-2, a telegraphed fastball resulted in Mike Napoli's third-inning grand slam that basically decided Saturday night's 11-1 Red Sox beatdown.

Too many times Hughes doesn't finish what he starts. Since the beginning of 2012, he has allowed 11 homers after being up 0-2. That is four more than any other pitcher in baseball.

With Hal Steinbrenner's $189 million mandate, the Yankees are going to have to be choosy with how they spend their money. Hughes conceivably is coming into his prime, but he is not the right fit for pinstripes.

He is a fly ball pitcher, which, at Yankee Stadium doesn't work. He has now has given up 12 homers and again is among the majors' worst in the category. Hughes hasn't risen to the challenge of the AL East enough. Hughes has a losing record against only one division in baseball. On Saturday, he dropped to 20-21 in his career with an ERA of 4.91 against the AL East. When Hughes faces everyone else, he is 34-18 with a 4.02 ERA.

In the first two innings, Hughes used 94 mph heat for strikeouts that left runners on. Eventually, though, major league hitters can gauge pitches if they know the script.

In the third, the Red Sox scored a run on two doubles and a single. There was some bad luck for Hughes. A better outfielder than Vernon Wells might have caught Mike Carp's double to left. It left it up to Hughes to bail himself out.

After Hughes got Dustin Pedroia to strikeout on -- what else? -- a fastball, Joe Girardi decided to intentionally walk David Ortiz to load the bases. It made sense, since Ortiz had nine hits in 20 at-bats against Hughes, including a couple of homers. Plus, as Girardi would point out, Napoli is more strikeout prone than Big Papi.

If Hughes was going to get beat, he wanted to do with his best pitch. So he threw four straight fastballs to Napoli. The first two were strikes. The third was fouled off and the fourth was a ball. On the fifth pitch, Hughes went to his slider and Napoli took it.

At 2-2, Hughes went back to Plan A, and Napoli was just waiting on it. Napoli drove it over the right-field wall for a grand slam and it was another poor night for Hughes.

"Tonight, it was really just one pitch I would like to have back," Hughes said.

Hughes would be gone after 100 pitches, and you have to wonder if this is final season as a Yankee. Would you give him even Edwin Jackson money -- a four-year, $52 million deal -- if you were the Yankees?

It is hard to plunk down that type of cash for a starter who isn't consistent enough with his secondary pitches to beat divisional rivals. It is still too much fastball or bust.

"I mean, he is going to rely on it a lot," Girardi said of the fastball. "That's the bottom line. He has to be able to throw his other stuff over and get some swings and misses, and he was not able to do that tonight."

Hughes is just 2-4 now. His ERA is 5.37. He is a No. 4 or 5 starter in the AL East. Someplace else, he might be worth more, but it seems long past thinking that Hughes will be more than inconsistent as a Yankee.

If you are going to pay him big money to be a Yankee, you have to want him on the mound for big games against the Red Sox.

Andrew Marchand is a senior writer for ESPNNewYork. He also regularly contributes to SportsCenter, Baseball Tonight, ESPNews, ESPN New York 98.7 FM and ESPN Radio. He joined ESPN in 2007 after nine years at the New York Post. Follow Andrew on Twitter »

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