Friday, June 24, 2011

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Phil Hughes | Baseball Digest

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Phil Hughes | Baseball Digest

Phil Hughes will celebrate his 25th birthday today by making a rehab start for the Double-A Trenton Thunder against the New Britain Rock Cats. Hughes is attempting to come back from shoulder trouble that zapped him of his fastball earlier this year and led to a 13.94 ERA in three starts. The right-hander is hoping to build off his first rehab start in which he touched 95-mph on the radar gun. Things weren’t always so do difficult for the California native.

Hughes was born in Mission Viejo and was an All-American at Foothill High School in Santa Ana, CA. He capped off his scholastic career with a 9-1, 0.69 mark as a senior and committed to Santa Clara University. But Hughes was selected as the 23rd overall pick in the first round of the 2004 draft by the New York Yankees and found himself making three appearances in the Gulf Coast League that summer. The 19-yr old spent the 2005 season split between Charleston and Tampa, posting a combined 9-1, 2.19 record with 93 strikeouts in 86.1 innings.

Hughes followed it up with a 12-6, 2.16 record with 168 strikeouts in 146 innings at Tampa and Trenton the following season. Expectations in the Bronx were through the roof and Hughes was ranked as the number two prospect in Baseball America prior to the 2007 season. Hughes started the season at Triple-A Scranton, but was called to make his Major League debut on April 26 against the Toronto Blue Jays and current teammate A.J. Burnett.

Hughes was touched up for a pair of runs in the 1st inning before cruising through the next three frames. But Hughes didn’t make it out of the 5th inning and was charged with four runs in 4.1 innings. The much anticipated debut was less than stellar, but his second time out would be a game to remember in more ways than one.

It was May 1st at the Ballpark in Arlington when Hughes took the mound against the Texas Rangers. Hughes walked the lead off hitter Kenny Lofton, but got a quick double play and a strikeout to end the 1st inning. Except for an additional pair of walks, Hughes tossed zeros through the 6th inning and had not allowed a hit. The Yankees offense had handEd Hughes a 9-0 lead as he strode to the mound in the 7th inning. Hughes quickly retired the lead off hitter, Michael Young, and faced future teammate Mark Teixeira. That’s when Hughes’ season turned upside down. Hughes over extended himself in attempt to get more torque on his curve ball and pulled his hamstring. He was done for the night (Hank Blalock broke up the no-hitter with a double off Mike Myers to start the 8th) and would not return to the Major Leagues until August the 4th.

It was a rocky return when Hughes did come back to the Bronx. He was just 1-2, 6.40 in six August starts and struggled with his command. But Hughes once again gave hope for the future with a strong final month of the season (3-0, 2.73 in five starts) and an impressive pair of post-season appearances against the Cleveland Indians, which included a victory in the ALDS. But just when you think things are on the upswing, life can kick you where it hurts.

Hughes would make just eight appearances in 2008 due to a variety of injuries and didn’t win a game. Suddenly many of the expectant fans thought Hughes was done or wouldn’t amount to anything. That he was fragile and another Carl Pavano in the making. It didn’t help matters that fellow rookie Ian Kennedy also struggled and the team didn’t make the playoffs for the first time in a dozen years. But each spring training brings renewal and 2009 would be a re-birth for both Hughes and the Yankees.

With the team in need of bullpen help, the Yankees decided to shift Hughes into a relief role. The now 23-yr old responded with dominance. He struck out 10 batters per nine innings and walked just 2.9 per nine innings. The third year player established himself as the 8th inning man in front of Mariano Rivera and was one of the keys to the Yankees return to the playoffs. Though Hughes personally struggled in the post-season, the Yankees captured their first World Series title in nine years and their 27th overall. Hughes had a magnificent year, but GM Brian Cashman was quick to point out that his former first round pick was still considered a starter and would resume that role in 2010.

Hughes not only returned to a starting role, but had a tremendous first half and made his first All-Star team. He wasn’t as consistent in the second half, perhaps some of his shoulder issues were beginning, but he still finished with an 18-8, 4.19 record and set career highs in innings pitched (176.1) and strikeouts (146). The Yankees makeshift rotation of 2011 has overachieved thus far, but if Hughes can return healthy and throwing hard, the team should be a post-season factor once again.

Also Born On This Date:

Doug Jones (1957 Covina, CA): The pitcher was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers out of Butler University in 1978. He spent 16 seasons in the Major Leagues with all but four of his 846 career appearances coming in relief. Jones career took him to Milwaukee and Cleveland twice, Houston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago (NL), and Oakland. He saved 303 games in his career, currently the 21st highest total in Major League Baseball. Before Jones retired following the 2000 season, he was named to five All-Star games and finished in the top 15 in MVP voting twice.

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