Phil Hughes: A Career Going In The Wrong Direction?

New York Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes during the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Tim Farrell/The Star-Ledger via US PRESSWIRE

The pitcher once known around New York Yankees circles as 'The Phranchise' might have punched the first hole in his ticket out of the team's starting rotation on Saturday afternoon. Hughes was awful against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, surrendering eight hits and six runs in 3.1 innings pitched. He now has an ERA of 9.00 in his two starts this season.

It is no secret that the shadow of the recently un-retired Andy Pettitte looms over the Yankees starting pitchers. If everyone is healthy when Pettitte is ready to join the staff in a few weeks, someone between the trio of Hughes, Freddy Garcia or Ivan Nova is going to get bumped. Hughes has stamped himself as the leader in the clubhouse for that dishonor.

Two starts into a season is, of course, too early to write off any pitcher. Yet, off what we have seen the last season-and-a-half or so from Hughes it is fair to wonder if the 25-year-old former No. 1 pick (23rd overall) in the 2004 MLB Draft is ever going to establish himself as a reliable starting pitcher for the Yankees.

Hughes, who turns 26 in June, cruised through the minor leagues after the Yankees drafted him, and their expectation was that he would be a front-of-the-rotation starter, if not the outright ace of the staff by now. Yet, here we are in -- unbelievably -- the sixth major-league season of Hughes' career with the Yankees and it is still impossible to know what to make of him.

Entering Saturday he had a 36-24 career record with a fairly unsightly 4.46 career ERA -- which Saturday's beating won't help.

Hughes went 18-8 in 2010, pitching 176 innings in his only real full season with the Yankees. The record was good, but the truth is that Hughes really has not pitched well for the Yankees since the first half of 2010. In the second half of that season he was 7-6, with a 4.90 ERA. In 2011, Hughes was a disaster, going 5-5 with a 5.79 ERA and pitching only 74 innings. Now, this season has not started well.

Hughes does not consistently show the kind of stuff that the Yankees believed he had, or that leads you to think he can be a front-line starter. A fastball that is straight, and mediocre by big-league standards. A rolling curveball. An OK cutter. A change-up he does not seem to fully trust.

Hughes was booed off the mound by the faithful at Yankee Stadium on Saturday, who certainly seem to have figured out that he is not -- and likely isn't going to be -- what they were told he would become. The question for Hughes now is simply whether or not he can prevent getting booted to the bullpen. Or Scranton-Wilkes Barre.

Without doubt, this is not where the Yankees thought they would be with Hughes as this point.

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