How comforting is it to see what Phil Hughes is doing as a full-time starterand, for that matter, Joba Chamberlain as a late inning reliever?
We can all recall the histrionics of the past couple of years that surrounded those two guys. For example, the absurd "Joba Rules", Joba as the next Mariano only to become essentially a long experiment as a starter, to Joba competing for the fifth starter spot, but everyone really hoping he ended up hanging with Mo and the others in the bullpen. Hughes and Ian Kennedy were thrown out there much before they were ready. Hughes had to suffer through regaining his confidence and his stuff going down to Triple-A only to eventually return with a vengeance first in relief, then as a starter. What a job he did last year helping the Bombers down the streth towards the play-offs.
Seeing how well Hughes has consistently performed this year points to several things. First of all, he has matured greatly in his mental approach and his demeanor is one of a 10-year veteran. Reading his quotes and seeing him in post-game interviews he is just focused on the basics--making good pitches, adjusting to which pitch is working best for him that particular day, and working to keep getting better each day. It has worked.
When you see Hughes pitch and compare it to A.J. Burnett you can see why Hughes has been consistent and Burnett, although off to a decent start, is not as consistent. Hughes has shown the ability to, as the pitching gurus say, "repeat his delivery"...ala Mariano. It is smooth, pretty effortless, and technically sound. Burnett on the other hand has what all experts agree to be "electric stuff." But, that same electric stuff ends up bouncing in the dirt, sailing high and away to lefties and up and in to righties because he doesn't consistently finish. He just fires. Some people would call him "effectively wild", but I'd rather have a guy be economical in his pitch count, be able to go deeper into a game, and not issue free passes.
I am a Hughes fan. Not being a bandwagon guy, I liked him when he first came up. He just wasn't ready to handle the bigs as well as the biggest town in the bigs at that time. Now he is. Phil Hughes has the ability to be a #2 or #3 guy with other MLB rotations, but he is #5 with the Yanks. The Yankees front office will do well to be sure Hughes is in pinstripes for years to come. He can easily leap-frog Vazquez, and when Any Pettitte decides to retire to Texas he'll slide up to #3. My hunch is, if he keeps coming on, and you take the element of Burnett's big contract out of the equation, Hughes could eventually be a #2 behind CC.