Nardi Says Hughes Isn't Being "Babied"

Recently, a lot has been made of the pitch counts and inning limits placed on Phil Hughes this past season by Pitching Coordinator Nardi Contreras. In an exclusive interview with PinstripesPlus.com, Contreras explains his rationale and refutes any notion that the Yankees tactics with their talented young right-hander is babying him at all.

Many critics have come to the forefront in recent weeks, pointing to the five-inning or 80-pitch limitation placed on Phil Hughes this past season as a negative in his development, that it somehow will prevent Hughes from pitching deeper into games some day and hinder his chances of going seven or eight innings in the big leagues.

"Who's worrying about seven or eight innings in the bigs," Contreras asked emphatically. "If he's in the big leagues next year, hopefully he goes as the number five starter. He's going to be able to go into the sixth or seventh inning with 100 pitches hopefully, even if it's six innings."

As talented as they come, Hughes projects to be an ace type of pitcher at the big league level some day, but that doesn't mean he will break into the Majors atop the rotation immediately and Nardi Contreras and the Yankees know that all too well.

"The Yankees have a great bullpen. They'll take care of this guy. He has just turned 20-years old in June. The year before he had 100 innings. The year before that, out of high school - I don't know how many innings he had [in high school] - but professionally, I think he had four or five innings during the season and then he had five or six innings in mini-camp [Instructs]," said Contreras.

"He went from eleven innings, plus whatever he had in high school, to 100 innings last year. And this year we bumped him another 50 innings. There's no reason for him to go 180 or 190 innings this year [2006]."

Amidst all the questions and concerns to the perceived tentative approach Contreras and company have taken with their prized prospect, Contreras is quick to point out that he not only has Hughes' future in his best interest, but that other organizations have employed similar developmental standards.

"Detroit shut down their big stud right-handed starter who's in the big leagues twice this year," said Contreras. "And this guy is a college guy, 22 or 23 years old - Verlander - to try and take care of his arm because he hit some walls this year. Hughes was just 19-years old. His season was a 19-year old."

"With his birthday, consider him a 19-year old this year," he added. "He's now 20-years old and he's going to pitch in the big leagues sometime next year. It might be out of Spring Training, it might be in June, whatever. Whenever the Yankees want him, he'll be ready."

Encharged with the duty of preparing pitchers for the big leagues and not necessarily how they are handled in the Majors, Nardi Contreras remains steadfast in his contention that Hughes will begin his Major League career at the back end of the rotation and slowly work his way up, a notion that should not get lost by his critics.

"It's not important if a pitcher can go out at his age - now we're not talking about a Mussina or a Randy Johnson who are your number ones, twos, and threes, and guys that have to give you innings, those are the guys that have got to save your bullpen - but these young kids, if they can give you five or six innings, if you get that out of your number four or five starter, you're way ahead of the game."

"And they're going to be way ahead of the game with Phil Hughes pitching in the five spot and pitching five or six innings," Contreras continued. "And there's going to be times where he takes seven innings."

There's a distinct difference between a big league veteran hurler and a teenage prodigy improving his craft. Aside from the obvious experience factor, the prospects are not accustomed to the wear and tear on their arms.

Most people only see the surface when hearing of pitch counts, not taking in account the heavy workload behind the scenes, a factor that Nardi Contreras and the Yankees don't have the luxury of overlooking.

"You know you don't just pitch 100 pitches in a game," Conteras revealed. "You get seven or eight warm-ups between innings. You throw 30, 40, or 50 pitches in the bullpen before the game to get loose. Once you get loose playing long-toss, you have the bullpen to get yourself hot going into the ball game. That's another 30-50 pitches. So you end up a lot more than 150 pitches in that day."

Building up Hughes' arm strength while improving his repertoire are two of the most important tasks for a pitching coordinator. But ask Nardi Contreras himself and he sees the bigger picture - to ensure Phil Hughes becomes a mainstay in the Yankee rotation for years to come.

"That's a lot of arm use and wear and tear, especially for such a young pitcher," Contreras said of Hughes' pitch counts in 2006. "So it's much more important this kid has a future for a long time with the Yankees instead of just being a flash in the pan. If you give him a 180 innings and then the next few years he can't throw a baseball because he had a few nine-inning games, it [pitching 180+ innings in 2006] is not important."

Pinstripes Plus Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\nMany critics have come to the forefront in recent weeks, pointing to the five-inning or 80-pitch limitation placed on Phil Hughes this past season as a negative in his development, that it somehow will prevent Hughes from pitching deeper into games some day and hinder his chances of going seven or eight innings in the big leagues.
\r\n
\r\n\"Who's worrying about seven or eight innings in the bigs,\" Contreras asked emphatically. \"If he's in the big leagues next year, hopefully he goes as the number five starter. He's going to be able to go into the sixth or seventh inning with 100 pitches hopefully, even if it's six innings.\"
\r\n
\r\nAs talented as they come, Hughes projects to be an ace type of pitcher at the big league level some day, but that doesn't mean he will break into the Majors atop the rotation immediately and Nardi Contreras and the Yankees know that all too well.
\r\n
\r\n\"The Yankees have a great bullpen. They'll take care of this guy. He has just turned 20-years old in June. The year before he had 100 innings. The year before that, out of high school - I don't know how many innings he had [in high school] - but professionally, I think he had four or five innings during the season and then he had five or six innings in mini-camp [Instructs],\" said Contreras.
\r\n
\r\n\"He went from eleven innings, plus whatever he had in high school, to 100 innings last year. And this year we bumped him another 50 innings. There's no reason for him to go 180 or 190 innings this year [2006].\"
\r\n
\r\nAmidst all the questions and concerns to the perceived tentative approach Contreras and company have taken with their prized prospect, Contreras is quick to point out that he not only has Hughes' future in his best interest, but that other organizations have employed similar developmental standards.
\r\n
\r\n\"Detroit shut down their big stud right-handed starter who's in the big leagues twice this year,\" said Contreras. \"And this guy is a college guy, 22 or 23 years old - Verlander - to try and take care of his arm because he hit some walls this year. Hughes was just 19-years old. His season was a 19-year old.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"With his birthday, consider him a 19-year old this year,\" he added. \"He's now 20-years old and he's going to pitch in the big leagues sometime next year. It might be out of Spring Training, it might be in June, whatever. Whenever the Yankees want him, he'll be ready.\"
\r\n
\r\nEncharged with the duty of preparing pitchers for the big leagues and not necessarily how they are handled in the Majors, Nardi Contreras remains steadfast in his contention that Hughes will begin his Major League career at the back end of the rotation and slowly work his way up, a notion that should not get lost by his critics.
\r\n
\r\n\"It's not important if a pitcher can go out at his age - now we're not talking about a Mussina or a Randy Johnson who are your number ones, twos, and threes, and guys that have to give you innings, those are the guys that have got to save your bullpen - but these young kids, if they can give you five or six innings, if you get that out of your number four or five starter, you're way ahead of the game.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"And they're going to be way ahead of the game with Phil Hughes pitching in the five spot and pitching five or six innings,\" Contreras continued. \"And there's going to be times where he takes seven innings.\"
\r\n
\r\nThere's a distinct difference between a big league veteran hurler and a teenage prodigy improving his craft. Aside from the obvious experience factor, the prospects are not accustomed to the wear and tear on their arms.
\r\n
\r\nMost people only see the surface when hearing of pitch counts, not taking in account the heavy workload behind the scenes, a factor that Nardi Contreras and the Yankees don't have the luxury of overlooking.
\r\n
\r\n\"You know you don't just pitch 100 pitches in a game,\" Conteras revealed. \"You get seven or eight warm-ups between innings. You throw 30, 40, or 50 pitches in the bullpen before the game to get loose. Once you get loose playing long-toss, you have the bullpen to get yourself hot going into the ball game. That's another 30-50 pitches. So you end up a lot more than 150 pitches in that day.\"
\r\n
\r\nBuilding up Hughes' arm strength while improving his repertoire are two of the most important tasks for a pitching coordinator. But ask Nardi Contreras himself and he sees the bigger picture - to ensure Phil Hughes becomes a mainstay in the Yankee rotation for years to come.
\r\n
\r\n\"That's a lot of arm use and wear and tear, especially for such a young pitcher,\" Contreras said of Hughes' pitch counts in 2006. \"So it's much more important this kid has a future for a long time with the Yankees instead of just being a flash in the pan. If you give him a 180 innings and then the next few years he can't throw a baseball because he had a few nine-inning games, it [pitching 180+ innings in 2006] is not important.\"
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