Like He Needed More Stuff

Top prospect Phil Hughes is set to make his AA debut with the Trenton Thunder on Thursday night after just a shade over 120 professional innings under his belt. Armed with a plus fastball and plus curveball are two of the biggest reasons for his quick ascension through the minor leagues, but Hughes and the Yankees believe the development of his changeup is why he is now ready for the upper levels.

"I got to see a few of his bullpens here and his changeup has really improved," Yankees' Minor League Pitching Coordinator told us this past weekend. "It's a pitch that we're really working on right now. If he can master that changeup, it'll take him really high.

To help Hughes master his changeup, Contreras and company have put him on a 'changeup diet' in 2006, forcing him to throw a certain amount of changeups in each start.

"It's supposed to be enough," Phil Hughes scrambled to come up with a certain amount of changeups he's supposed to throw in each game. "If you pitch four innings and only throw five or six, that's fine. But if I throw six or seven innings, like I've done lately, they want me to be up there [in amount of changeups]. There's no real magic number, but I'd say 10-15 [changeups] if I throw six or seven innings."

Mixing in his improved changeup while re-incorporating his slider allowed Hughes to post a 1.80 ERA in five starts with the Tampa Yankees and hold opposing Florida State League batters to a .178 batting average prior to his promotion to Trenton after his final A-ball start on Saturday night.

"Tonight was good," Hughes said after Saturday's start against Dunedin. "I felt I had my good stuff all night but I had a little trouble in the fifth or sixth inning. There was a couple of cheap hits. My mechanics weren't great. I was rushing out a little bit from the stretch and I was pitching in. I wasn't myself from the stretch. It happens."

Even with some temporary mechanical flaws, Hughes still limited the Blue Jays to two earned runs on four hits and one walk - his second walk of the season - in seven innings of work on Saturday, which speaks volumes of his progress in 2006.

"I'm throwing the ball well this year," Hughes admitted. "I'm really happy with the way everything is going. My win-loss record might not show exactly what I've done, but I'm really happy with the way I've thrown the ball, for sure."

A big reason for the exceeding optimism to his game has been the rapid development of his changeup, a pitch he never threw in his amateur days.

"Very well," Hughes said of the progression of his changeup. "I went from the point where I couldn't throw because I never did, to now I throw between 10-15 a game. I have confidence in it and I can throw it for strikes and down. It's a good pitch for me.

"I got one of the better hitters out twice tonight on changeups," Hughes told us Saturday night. "It's good to be able to mix it in when I need it. It's not just hard or slow. It's good to have something that looks hard and get guys out that way too."

Aside from immense improvements to his changeup, Hughes has begun throwing his slider again this season, a pitch that was shelved by the Yankees until his curveball and changeup improved.

"The slider has been good," Hughes revealed. "The slider is something I'v been able to pick up again real easy after it was set down for a while. It's a good pitch for me especially against the lefties. I can get it in, and get lefties out pretty well with the slider, especially starting it out away and it cuts in."

"It's really a good pitch for me, a fastball with just a change of the grip," Hughes continued. "The curveball is still going to be my main out-pitch. But the slider is good to have too."

Tampa catcher Peter Pilittere, aka "P.J.", has been working with Hughes this season and has been extremely impressed with the overall package.

"Basically he attacks guys with a good fastball with good location and with good secondary stuff," Pilittere said. "We've really been working with him to get his changeup better. He's been throwing it here and there and it's getting better, but it's also nice to have a plus fastball in your back pocket whenever you want it. He also has a good secondary pitch with his curveball, and he's throwing his slider for strikes too."

Pilittere has been particularly impressed with Hughes' slider.

"His slider is a good pitch to both righties and lefties," the Tampa catcher told us. "We've been trying to throw the curveball more than his slider and it's a plus pitch too. It has a spike and some good tilt down off the table. Both are good pitches. Even if he didn't have the plus fastball, he'd be a good pitcher. It's nice to have that kind of stuff."

'That kind of stuff' has translated into the type of dominance seldom seen from a 19-year old pitching against much older competition in the Florida State League, mowing down batters with apparent ease.

"He's basically made it look pretty easy for him out there," Pilittere said. "I know it's not as easy as it looks. He works just as hard as everybody else. It's a big reason why gives himself the best chance to win. "

With an even 2.00 career ERA after his start on Saturday, issuing barely one and half walks per nine innings in his career, all while piling up strikeouts at a rapid pace, the Yankees believe Hughes is ready to make the jump to the AA level.

"Oh yeah, I think I'm ready," Hughes confidently said of his promotion to AA-Trenton. "I've heard there's a huge difference between low-A and AA, but the hitters are still human. They're going to get themselves out. I definitely think I'm ready."

The development of his changeup is a big reason why everyone is so confident with his move to the higher levels. Charged with the duty of working with Hughes on improving his changeup, Pilittere believes it has come a long way in just five starts since Spring Training.

"I don't think it's very far away at all, actually," Piliterre said of Hughes' changeup. "From Spring Training he really started throwing it, where I could see he was struggling with it, to now - we have a quota [of changeups] we have to throw every game - for now, early in the game, it's a good pitch. It's a pitch I want to call. It's to the point now where it's something we can definitely use. It just makes him that much more lethal out there."

"Like he needed more stuff," Piliterre concluded with a chuckle.

Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n\r\n\r\n\"I got to see a few of his bullpens here and his changeup has really improved,\" Yankees' Minor League Pitching Coordinator told us this past weekend. \"It's a pitch that we're really working on right now. If he can master that changeup, it'll take him really high.
\r\n
\r\nTo help Hughes master his changeup, Contreras and company have put him on a 'changeup diet' in 2006, forcing him to throw a certain amount of changeups in each start.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's supposed to be enough,\" Phil Hughes scrambled to come up with a certain amount of changeups he's supposed to throw in each game. \"If you pitch four innings and only throw five or six, that's fine. But if I throw six or seven innings, like I've done lately, they want me to be up there [in amount of changeups]. There's no real magic number, but I'd say 10-15 [changeups] if I throw six or seven innings.\"
\r\n
\r\nMixing in his improved changeup while re-incorporating his slider allowed Hughes to post a 1.80 ERA in five starts with the Tampa Yankees and hold opposing Florida State League batters to a .178 batting average prior to his promotion to Trenton after his final A-ball start on Saturday night.
\r\n
\r\n\"Tonight was good,\" Hughes said after Saturday's start against Dunedin. \"I felt I had my good stuff all night but I had a little trouble in the fifth or sixth inning. There was a couple of cheap hits. My mechanics weren't great. I was rushing out a little bit from the stretch and I was pitching in. I wasn't myself from the stretch. It happens.\"
\r\n
\r\nEven with some temporary mechanical flaws, Hughes still limited the Blue Jays to two earned runs on four hits and one walk - his second walk of the season - in seven innings of work on Saturday, which speaks volumes of his progress in 2006.
\r\n
\r\n\"I'm throwing the ball well this year,\" Hughes admitted. \"I'm really happy with the way everything is going. My win-loss record might not show exactly what I've done, but I'm really happy with the way I've thrown the ball, for sure.\"
\r\n
\r\nA big reason for the exceeding optimism to his game has been the rapid development of his changeup, a pitch he never threw in his amateur days.
\r\n
\r\n\"Very well,\" Hughes said of the progression of his changeup. \"I went from the point where I couldn't throw because I never did, to now I throw between 10-15 a game. I have confidence in it and I can throw it for strikes and down. It's a good pitch for me.
\r\n
\r\n\"I got one of the better hitters out twice tonight on changeups,\" Hughes told us Saturday night. \"It's good to be able to mix it in when I need it. It's not just hard or slow. It's good to have something that looks hard and get guys out that way too.\"
\r\n
\r\nAside from immense improvements to his changeup, Hughes has begun throwing his slider again this season, a pitch that was shelved by the Yankees until his curveball and changeup improved.
\r\n
\r\n\"The slider has been good,\" Hughes revealed. \"The slider is something I'v been able to pick up again real easy after it was set down for a while. It's a good pitch for me especially against the lefties. I can get it in, and get lefties out pretty well with the slider, especially starting it out away and it cuts in.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"It's really a good pitch for me, a fastball with just a change of the grip,\" Hughes continued. \"The curveball is still going to be my main out-pitch. But the slider is good to have too.\"
\r\n
\r\nTampa catcher Peter Pilittere, aka \"P.J.\", has been working with Hughes this season and has been extremely impressed with the overall package.
\r\n
\r\n\"Basically he attacks guys with a good fastball with good location and with good secondary stuff,\" Pilittere said. \"We've really been working with him to get his changeup better. He's been throwing it here and there and it's getting better, but it's also nice to have a plus fastball in your back pocket whenever you want it. He also has a good secondary pitch with his curveball, and he's throwing his slider for strikes too.\"
\r\n
\r\nPilittere has been particularly impressed with Hughes' slider.
\r\n
\r\n\"His slider is a good pitch to both righties and lefties,\" the Tampa catcher told us. \"We've been trying to throw the curveball more than his slider and it's a plus pitch too. It has a spike and some good tilt down off the table. Both are good pitches. Even if he didn't have the plus fastball, he'd be a good pitcher. It's nice to have that kind of stuff.\"
\r\n
\r\n'That kind of stuff' has translated into the type of dominance seldom seen from a 19-year old pitching against much older competition in the Florida State League, mowing down batters with apparent ease.
\r\n
\r\n\"He's basically made it look pretty easy for him out there,\" Pilittere said. \"I know it's not as easy as it looks. He works just as hard as everybody else. It's a big reason why gives himself the best chance to win. \"
\r\n
\r\nWith an even 2.00 career ERA after his start on Saturday, issuing barely one and half walks per nine innings in his career, all while piling up strikeouts at a rapid pace, the Yankees believe Hughes is ready to make the jump to the AA level.
\r\n
\r\n\"Oh yeah, I think I'm ready,\" Hughes confidently said of his promotion to AA-Trenton. \"I've heard there's a huge difference between low-A and AA, but the hitters are still human. They're going to get themselves out. I definitely think I'm ready.\"
\r\n
\r\nThe development of his changeup is a big reason why everyone is so confident with his move to the higher levels. Charged with the duty of working with Hughes on improving his changeup, Pilittere believes it has come a long way in just five starts since Spring Training.
\r\n
\r\n\"I don't think it's very far away at all, actually,\" Piliterre said of Hughes' changeup. \"From Spring Training he really started throwing it, where I could see he was struggling with it, to now - we have a quota [of changeups] we have to throw every game - for now, early in the game, it's a good pitch. It's a pitch I want to call. It's to the point now where it's something we can definitely use. It just makes him that much more lethal out there.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"Like he needed more stuff,\" Piliterre concluded with a chuckle.
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