Bronx, N.Y., April 14, 2012 – In a repeat Yankee fans did not need to see again, Phil Hughes failed to provide a mediocre, much less quality, start as the Yanks fell to the visiting Anaheim Angels 7-1 in Yankee Stadium Saturday afternoon. Struggling to record 10 outs on 85 pitches, Hughes allowed six runs on eight hits and two walks in that time, and the Yanks and Angels evened their series at a game apiece.
Each team scratched two hits in the first, with Hughes escaping with back-to-back swinging strike outs, two of the six he recorded, against Kendrys Morales and Torii Hunter, with runners on the corners. Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher reached on base hits against free agent signee southpaw C.J. Wilson leading off the bottom of the first, but by the time the Yanks recorded a third hit, Hughes was gone from the game.
Pushed to throw 26 pitches in the first, the Yankee righthander was hurt in early counts in the second, as Vernon Wells singled on an 0-1 pitch with one out and Chris Ianetta tucked a liner around the right field foul pole, just 314 feet from home plate, on the next pitch, 2-0 Angels. Howard Kendrick singled on a 2-0 pitch to start the top of the third, and Albert Pujols, behind in the count 0-2, lined a double to deep left center for a third run. Despite the early-count thunder, Phil continued to throw too many pitches, with 69 thrown after three, and when Kendrick homered following a walk and single in the third, it was 6-0 Anaheim.
Although Wilson was pitching well, the Yanks had chances. Curtis Granderson followed Mark Teixeira’s one-out single in the fourth with a walk, but the rally fizzled. The home team kept up the pressure in the fourth, starting with leadoff singles by Eduardo Nunez and Jeter. But Swisher’s ensuing shot to left just missed the foul pole and he flied out. Robinson Cano’s rbi single followed, but it was the lone run the Yanks would score.
That tally made it 7-1, as David Phelps, who came on for Hughes, surrendered a two-out home run to Vernon Wells in the fifth. But that hardly tells the tale of Phelps’s outing, which was the lone bright spot in a dull, lifeless effort by New York. The news wasn’t all bad on Hughes either. This was not the result of a lost fastball, a difficulty that befell him in early 2011, as in a 6-5 win over Baltimore exactly 12 months ago. The O’s scored five runs against Phil that day and took a lead into the ninth until now-retired Jorge Posada homered to tie it; the Yanks prevailed in extras. But Hughes was routinely hitting 93 on the gun in today’s game, and reached 94 on the first-inning punch out of Hunter.
With veteran Andy Pettitte and young Michael Pineda working their way toward their shots at the 2012 Yankee rotation, there might be a place in the Yankee bullpen for Hughes and his fastball. But the problem is, just whom would he replace? The most likely hurler is Phelps, who was targeted for the AAA rotation until Pineda felt pain in his shoulder at the end of Spring Training. But Phelps has been very good in the pen, and that did not change this day. He retired 16 out of 19 batters carrying this game two outs into the ninth, surrendering just the Wells home run and two walks. Phelps struck out four of his own, but what he did best was to get outs on every batter who put the ball in play but one, including five ground ball outs, something Hughes failed to do to even one batter.
Aside from the 10-inning win last year, Yankee April 14 history favors just one player from years gone by, as this was the day in 1955 that Elston Howard became the first black player ever to don the Pinstripes; subbing in left field for the ejected Irv Noren in the eighth, he singled for a run in an 8-4 loss to Boston. And on this day in 1967, Ellie reached on a two-out ninth-inning single against Red Sox rookie Bill Rohr, saving the struggling Yanks from the ignominy of a no-hitter being thrown against them by a no-name player.
Ivan Nova, sharp in his 2012 debut, takes the mound in the rubber game with the Angels Sunday night, followed by Freddy Garcia, who struggled in Baltimore, pitching Monday night against visiting Minnesota. Following that game, we’ll know more about Hughes’s chance of retaining his spot. In the fourth inning Saturday afternoon, his chances did not look good.