Phil Hughes' Meltdown Latest Sign Of Trouble For Yanks

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Yankee fans, the realistic ones anyway, must have watched last night's 6-5 loss to Detroit and understood that the team is in serious trouble. There's a whole lot of things going wrong, from injuries to Curtis Granderson's sudden inability to fathom the strike zone. But the worst, by far, is the collapse of the starting rotation, particularly Ivan Nova and yesterday's starter - and loser -- Phil Hughes.

The basic numbers were bad: 4 1/3 innings, 8 hits, 4 runs, just 3 strikeouts. But it's the way that Hughes lost that has the Yankees shaking their heads.

He started with 3 strong innings - 2 singles allowed and 3Ks. Best of all, he did it all with just 42 pitches. The 14 pitch-per-inning average suggested that Hughes was reaching a point in the season where his control and stamina could get him through seven innings and possibly into the 8th.

No such luck. The 5th inning has been Hughes' witching hour this year: seven times he's run out of gas and failed to make it to the 6th. After such a promising start, the 4th inning last night turned into a nightmare - he threw 43 pitches, gave up four hits, and two runs, after which the Yanks were never in the game. The 5th inning was doomed: two more hits, a walk, 20 pitches, just one out recorded.

And here's the real telling stat: in the 4th inning, four times Hughes had a batter with two strikes and could not close the deal. He threw 20 pitches after he got batters to two strikes without being able to get a strikeout. All four batters ended up with hits.

The Yankees really needed Hughes to come through in this game. After facing Seattle's "King Felix" Hernandez at Yankee Stadium and Justin Verlander Monday in Detroit, Yankee hitters had been shut down and humiliated, and the starters blatantly unequal to facing the task of matching up to the other teams' aces (already it's beginning to dawn on Yankee fans that the team is sunk in the postseason if it plays any team with two ace starters).

Hughes went into yesterday's game 11-8 and an ERA of 3.96 to Detroit's Rick Porcello's 8-6 and 4.65. As it turned out, Hughes couldn't hold a lead when pitching against and end-of-the-rotation starter like Porcello.

Because Hughes seemed to be making progress this season, the Yankees failed to make a deal for an ace starting pitcher before the trade deadline. Now he's reverted to the all-too-familiar pitcher that Yankees fans have come to know all too well: win-a-game, lose-a-game, overpower for 2-3 innings, then out of gas by the 4th or 5th.

A few years ago Hughes was the Yankees' pitcher of the future. But they didn't know how to develop him. He was never made to stay in a game in tough situations and pitch his way out. He never built up arm strength. Now it's too late. He's still the Yankees' pitcher of the future, and always be.
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