Wednesday, April 29, 2009


ON THE DAY the New York Yankees slashed premium ticket prices, there was a certain irony that it was a homegrown talent who should end their slump.

Not big-money signings CC Sabathia or AJ Burnett –two of the men signed to put bums on seats at the new Yankee Stadium – but Phil Hughes, the Yanks’ first-round draft pick in 2004.

Little more than a year ago, Hughes was so highly regarded that general manager Brian Cashman wouldn’t even entertain including him in a trade for the great Johan Santana.

When he failed to win a game in eight starts in 2008, that looked a serious error of judgment.

To his credit, Hughes took his medicine and returned to Triple-A baseball to work on his game and develop a curveball. His education continued in the Arizona Fall League.

Last night, in Detroit, the 23-year-old right-hander from Mission Viejo, California, made a triumphant return, allowing just two hits in six shutout innings to help end the Yanks’ four-game losing streak.

He managed to work out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning and of the 99 pitches he threw, 58 were strikes. His fastball averaged 91.3 mph and reached a velocity of 94 mph.

With the Yankees making the most of a fielding error in the seventh inning to score 10 runs, Hughes was rewarded with the win his performance deserved.

Of course, one swallow doesn’t make a summer and Hughes has yet to prove he can pitch to this level on a consistent basis.

But with Chien-Ming Wang out of sorts, the Yanks need a fifth starting pitcher, and Hughes could hardly have provided them with more encouragement last night.

Young Yankees pitcher makes triumphant return

Dave Eiland, the Yankees’ pitching coach, said he was delighted but not surprised. “I think he has something to prove,” said Eiland.

“That’s a good thing. He can build on this, but it’s only one game. Let’s see him do it again and again and again. He was tremendous tonight. But I’ve seen him do that before and it doesn’t surprise me. That’s how good he can be. He’s much more focused and confident now.”

A healthy Hughes pitching well gives the Yankees so many more options. Dare I say it, but if Wang can iron out his problems, they can even consider putting Joba Chamberlain back in the bullpen where he belongs.

After getting swept in Boston, and losing game one at Comerica Park, the Yanks were in desperate need of a lift from someone.

Although Sabathia pitched competently the previous night, the Yankees were behind from the very first inning.

Hughes was so good that he was able to outlast Edwin Jackson and give his team the chance to feast on Tigers reliever Ryan Perry.

Now the challenge is for the rest of the Yankees’ starting rotation to follow suit. On paper, they have the pitchers to put together a similar run to the red Sox, whose 11-game winning streak came to an end in Cleveland last night.

As Hughes demonstrated in Detroit, a stellar pitching performance can cover up a multitude of sins, such as a struggling bullpen and out-of-form hitters.

Good things can happen, like a fielder misjudging a routine fly ball and your No. 8 hitter lacing a fastball over the fence for a grand slam.

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