Exactly what the New York Yankees do not need is an injury to start Spring Training, and right out of the gate, that’s what they have. Phil Hughes is projected to be out for two weeks with a bulging disk in his back, though Hughes’ injury may end up being a positive for the team.
It always seems baseball players get injured in the strangest ways and Hughes’ injury is no different; he hurt his back covering first base during a fielding drill. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said he hopes the injury is nothing major, and Hughes will be on anti-inflammatory medication for a few days.
Injuries are going to be a huge concern for the Yankees all season, as is Hughes’ ability to come back after a horrendous 2012. One of the main reasons Hughes needs this time in Tampa, is to figure out whatever it was that was causing his problems last season. Even if Hughes is only a Band-Aid until Michael Pineda comes back in July, the Yankees need Hughes to be the pitcher he was two years ago.
The Yankees having to deal with an injury so early, to the starting pitcher needing this spring more than any other pitcher, is the stuff that will give Cashman an ulcer. Cashman knows he needs the back end of the rotation to perform better, he knows Hughes had a horrible time keeping the ball in the park last season and he also knows for the Yankees to compete, Hughes has to get his game together, not fall apart physically.
Yankees pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, has been working with Hughes to increase his arm strength, because his velocity is down, resulting in his inability to keep the ball in the park. The importance of increasing Hughes’ arm strength is because he is a natural fly ball pitcher, and the difference between an 89 MPH fastball and a 92 MPH fastball, is the difference between an out and a home run.
Hughes had major problems giving up homers last season and to have him hurt already, unable to work on the things to prevent this from happening again in 2013, is huge for the Yankees. Mix in the fact that he came into camp with the same issues he had last season and the Yankees have a very big problem on their hands.
This may be an omen of things to come; it could also be an excuse for Hal Steinbrenner to open up that dusty wallet and go out and grab a pitcher, one that can at least keep the ball in the park. Hughes is a bad pitcher and getting injured may be a blessing in disguise for the Yankees. Hughes isn’t going to get any better; the only way he will get wins is if he gets a lot of run support. The Yankees may not see it, but Hughes is a lost cause and keeping him in the starting rotation will keep the Yankees out of the playoffs. Hughes will lose more game this year than he did in 2012; keeping him in the starting rotation can only make the Yankees worse.
It is hard hitting a man when he is down, but Phil Hughes just isn’t that good and for some reason, Manager Joe Girardi and Rothschild feel they can somehow fix his problems. The problem with that idea, is they cannot all of a sudden change the fact that Hughes is a fly ball pitcher, pitching in a stadium where fly balls often turn into home runs.
In 2012, Hughes was 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA, giving up 35 home runs. Hughes getting hurt this early in camp may make a lot of people in pinstripes nervous, because he needs this time to find a way to keep the ball in the park, or it could be looked at as the time to give a young, up and coming pitcher a chance to be a starter.
That pitcher is David Phelps; this is his chance to shine and grab a spot in the Yankees rotation. He has been very outspoken about his desire to be a starter. Hughes’ injury gives Phelps the chance to “walk-the-walk” to prove he is the better option, because the Yankees would have only gone to him after Hughes got crushed early in the season. So with the injury to Hughes, Phelps needs to grab this job, because the Yankees are a better team with him pitching every fifth day. It is time for “Home Run Hughes” to head to the bullpen where he belongs.
Nik Swartz is the Featured Columnist for the New York Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @Sweetnesz13