Commentary

It's time for Hughes to take a timeout

Struggling righty's start has joined Chien-Ming and Boehringer in Yankee infamy

Updated: April 15, 2011, 10:52 AM ET
By Andrew Marchand | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Since 1920, there are only two other New York Yankees starters who have begun their seasons as poorly as Phil Hughes.

In each of their initial three starts, Chien-Ming Wang in 2009 and Brian Boehringer in 1995 allowed five or more runs without lasting five innings.

You know what happened to them on their next turn? They didn't make the start. They both were yanked from the rotation.

That is what the Yankees should do with Hughes.

They shouldn't do it as a punishment, nor should they do it because they are giving up on Hughes -- because, of course, they aren't and shouldn't.

They should do it for all the right reasons. The ones Yankees manager Joe Girardi pointed to after the Yankees made the 5-0 hole Hughes created vanish in their 6-5 extra-inning win over the Orioles.

"We have to figure out how to get this kid right and get him back on track," Girardi said.

Hughes is off track and out of whack. You can see it when he's on the mound. You can hear it when he talks in the clubhouse.

"Same old story," Hughes said after joining Wang and Boehringer in Yankees start-of-the-season infamy. "I don't even know what to say at this point. It is what it is. I'm hoping it will turn around. I'm fairly confident it will turn around."

Hughes' arm has been the main concern, but how soon until it's his head? "Fairly confident?" Those aren't very convincing words.

It's hard to stay confident when you can't make it to the fifth inning. Especially when, according to Pitch FX, your fastball -- although it hit 92 in the scoreless first and second innings -- disappears and averages only 90 mph.

Add it all up, and it is bound to have an impact on the 24-year-old's confidence, especially when questions about his velocity show no signs of stopping.

"That gets in the back of your mind," Girardi said.

That is why the best course of action is to find Hughes' fastball. Girardi, pitching coach Larry Rothschild and GM Brian Cashman are discussing it. They are figuring out whether the best place to find Hughes' fastball is in the bullpen or Triple-A Scranton.

Phil Hughes
AP Photo/Kathy WillensStruggling starter Phil Hughes was removed after 4 1/3 innings on Thursday.

But it is not every fifth day. That's for sure.

"We need to get his velocity up to allow him to compete," Cashman said before Hughes' start Thursday. "If it's not up there, he's obviously going to have trouble competing."

Hughes can't compete right now on the major league level. For his long-term health and for the greater good of the franchise, he needs a timeout to figure out how to fix it. They have tried the "wing it and pray" strategy, and it has failed.

On Monday and Thursday of next week, the Yankees do have off days, so they could finagle some time that way, but the measure needs to be more drastic. Hughes must show that he can throw 92-94 mph for five or six innings before he is put back out there every fifth day.

Right now, the Yankees and Hughes say he is healthy, leaving Rothschild to add that there is no miracle cure to get Hughes' fastball to return.

Long toss? More rest? Seeing a hypnotist?

"I don't have the magic potion," Hughes said.

No, what really has to alarm the Yankees, as Hughes dutifully noted in his postgame comments, is that luck was on his side Thursday. He gave up the five runs on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, but it could have been worse. Mark Reynolds and Brian Roberts sent balls that nearly went out but were caught against the wall.

Were there any positives? Hughes started with two scoreless innings and did manage to get four swinging strikes in his 70 pitches, which was one more than his previous 137 pitches this season. Still, it is not enough to build on.

The Yankees need to locate his fastball. As Cashman said, he can't compete without it.

"It seems like there is 18 days in between my starts," Hughes said. "It is not a good feeling to have to answer all these questions about how poorly I've been pitching every time out. It is not a fun thing to deal with, but what are you going to do?"

What the Yankees should do is either have Hughes work things out in the bullpen or send him to Triple-A. They can put Bartolo Colon in the rotation. It is not giving up on Hughes. It is doing the right thing for him and the franchise.

You don't think it can work? Well, the Indians once sent down a successful young pitcher named Cliff Lee, who lost it in 2007. Lee had won 32 games the previous two years but struggled to the point that Cleveland optioned him to Triple-A. He righted himself.

Lee's issues then might have been different than Hughes' are now. But the concept is the same.

The Yankees should let Hughes find his fastball -- wherever it has gone -- and then put him out there every fifth day. Then, he can continue what just last year looked like the start to a tremendous Yankees career.

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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