Phil Hughes ready to make the most of his move to the bullpen
Hughes spoke to the media about the move prior to Wednesday's game, and despite admitting that he wasn't expressly told this was a permanent move, he had resignation in his voice that he will finish out the season - and perhaps his Yankees career - in a relief role.
"I got the idea that it'd be longer than (one start); it wasn't necessarily laid out to me in any way, but it sort of felt that way, yeah," he said. "Huff's been throwing the ball extremely well and I haven't all year, so I see why they made the decision. It's disappointing, there's always kind of the emotion going into it, but at this point, we're in the middle of a playoff race here and that was the decision they wanted to make."
Hughes has struggled to a 4-13 record and 4.81 ERA in 26 starts this year, the final one a rain-shortened 1.1 inning appearance on Labor Day that brought his time in the rotation to an end with a whimper.
To his credit, the righty has always been the first to admit he has been quite flawed this season, but almost five months to the day after his first start in Detroit, he's still not sure exactly why.
"It's hard to say, really. You go through ups and downs in every season, but it just seems like this year in particular there have been a lot of downs," he said. "You go back and think about what you did when you were successful, but it's one thing to think about it and another thing to actually execute and do it."
Despite missing Spring Training with a back injury, Hughes said he has been healthy all year - noting that his velocity has been up, a fact that makes the demotion even more disappointing - and pointed only to that theory of execution as a reason for what has happened since April.
"Obviously I have a game plan every start of what I want to do, and sometimes it's just that you're able to execute it and sometimes you're not able to do that," he said. "In my head, I know what I can do to be a successful starter. It's just that the execution part has not been there consistently this year. That's just the way it goes."
So Hughes now finds himself as a reliever once again, but admitted he still isn't quite sure where he fits into the bullpen mix. Girardi said Wednesday that Hughes could be used "long or short" with the determination based on the skipper saying he would "look at the situation on a daily basis, (seeing) who you have and don't have" - but with David Robertson and Mariano Rivera entrenched in the later innings, it appears that at best, the former first-round pick is a nominal middleman.
"The bullpen's been great, and I feel like the back end of our bullpen is pretty set up," Hughes said. "Obviously, I'm not hoping any of our starters has a short start. So if the formula goes to plan, I don't really see myself in that mix. But obviously winning ballgames is the most important part."
Still, Hughes says, he knows the goal, and will do whatever it takes to help the team.
"I was looking forward to having a good September in the rotation," Hughes said. "But obviously that's not in the plans, so I'll turn my attention to doing the best job out of the bullpen that I possibly can in whatever role that is. That's it, that's all I can do."
As part of the bridge to Mariano Rivera in 2009, Hughes made 44 relief appearances and went 5-1 with a 1.40 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 51.1 innings, and his skipper at least is confident he can do that once again.
"We've seen Phil do it before, so he should have confidence that he can do it," Girardi said. "As a reliever a lot of times you don't need four pitches, or even three pitches…if you're Mo you only need one pitch, but most relievers will have two, and sometimes guys just do better in that role."