Phil Hughes experiment was supposed to feature a plethora of happy moments. However, after getting rocked by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for six runs in three innings on Saturday afternoon, including a two-run home run in the second and a three-run homer in the fourth, the exalting Huuughes... chants from Yankees fans were replaced with an unmerciful chorus of boos.
In 2007, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman intended for Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy and Hughes to develop into aces on the next great Yankees rotation. The plan has failed miserably. Hughes is the last remaining hurler from a promising young staff and the Yankees appear set on reviving his career. However, his odds on surviving the season in pinstripes do not appear favorable at this point. Hughes is akin to Matt Damon in Saving Private Ryan.
After being coddled with restrictions and throwing limits as a young pitcher in 2007, known as the "Joba Rules", Chamberlain was touted as a future ace hurler. Instead, Chamberlain never seized his opportunities and has been stuck in a setup role in the five years since. Yankee fans may have seen the last of Chamberlain after he suffered a bizarre open ankle dislocation on a trampoline last month.
Kennedy was traded following the 2009 season and In 2010, Hughes outlasted Chamberlain in a spring training competition for the final starting spot. That season, Hughes gave a glimpse into the promise that convinced Brian Cashman to turn down a swap involving Hughes and then-Minnesota Twins Cy Young winner Johan Santana.
While Hughes hasn't fallen as far as Chamberlain has, he hasn't come within arms reach of the heights that were expected of him when he joined the Yankees in 2007. In his second major league start, Hughes threw a no-hitter through six innings before suffering a significant hamstring injury. During the 2007 postseason, 21-year old Hughes replaced Roger Clemens in the rotation.
Chamberlain and Hughes are pitching the 2012 season on one-year contracts. Well, at least Hughes is pitching this season. Just not very well.
Hughes' cruelly disappointing pitching also leaves the future of the Yankees bullpen shrouded in doubt. If Hughes does not return to form, Cashman's five-year experiment with developing young pitchers from the minor leagues instead of doling out for the best free agents aces will have yielded awful results. To make matters worse, the Yankees hitters nearly shutout by the Angels' C.J. Wilson., whom they didn't pursue this summer as part of their more fiscally responsible post-Boss Steinbrenner era.
Conversely, while 39-year old Andy Pettitte pitches his way back from retirement in the minor league system, Hughes may be throwing himself out of the rotation. Ironically, eight years ago, the Yankees selected Hughes with a first round pick they were rewarded with as free agent compensation for Petite signing with the Houston Astros.
Michael Pineda's return may also contribute to Hughes being demoted to the bullpen. Likewise, the Yankees realized years ago that the bullpen was where Chamberlain belonged.
Hughes spent much of the 2009 season as a reliever and earned a 5-1 record, three saves and a 1.40 ERA. Injuries and shoddy pitching forced the Yankees to move Hughes to the bullpen for the 2011 playoffs.
Even his breakout 2010 season was fools gold. In 14 of his wins, the Yankees gave Hughes tremendous run support by scoring six or more runs and his 4.19 ERA was the second highest of any pitcher in the top 25 wins category. Hughes has hit a wall in his development or maybe it's his ceiling.
Hughes' future may belong in the bullpen.
However, Girardi hasn't made any decisions as of yet about Hughes' future but he isn't afraid to make a change.
As Yankees we’re about winning. We’re going to go with the best five guys at that time (when everybody is healthy and set),’’ Girardi said.
Winning is something Hughes has been unfamiliar with lately. As a starter Hughes is now 30-21 with a 4.90 ERA. He's also 26. Although he arguably hasn't peaked his value is in question. The perception has shifted not the prized young pitcher whom the Yankees chose over a Cy Young winner anymore and he should familiarize himself with the urgency of now. This may be his final season in pinstripes. It's now or never for Phil Hughes.