As the Timbuk 3 song goes: “Things are going great and they’re only getting better. I’m doing all right, getting good grades. The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades, I gotta wear shades”.
Tonight, August 2nd, 2011 with the pitchers that lined up on the MLB level, AAA level, and AA level could have been the night that the Yankees look back on and say this was the night that showed that the future is in fact so bright that we all gotta wear shades.
On the MLB level Phil Hughes had what everyone will point to as his best performance of the season. Back on July 17th in his second game back from the DL Hughes went 6 innings and 80 pitches giving up 2 earned runs along with 4 hits and 2 walks while striking out 5. Hughes did benefit that night without Bautista in the Jays lineup but that start did look more like the Hughes of early 2010. Tonight’s game though was even more like the type of pitcher the Yankees hope Hughes can be.
While pitching just six innings again Hughes was in a position to return for the 7th until the rain started to fall due to his low pitch count of just 65 and the fact that his velocity, command, and control was pretty constant throughout the game.
While his line of six innings of no run three hit ball (with four strikeouts and no walks) was excellent it was also how he got the outs that was promising. Unlike anytime this season or in fact many times last year Hughes was able to get the third out of an inning in a pretty easy fashion. Three of his six innings were 1-2-3 innings, the second inning opened with a hit but then he shut the next three White Sox hitters down, in the third after getting two outs Hughes let up a hit but then immediately got the next batter out, and then in the 5th he let up a lead off hit then induced a ground ball DP and followed this up with a ground ball out to end the inning. In his final inning of work, a 1-2-3 inning at that, Hughes threw a total of 10 pitches and of these 7 were four seam fastballs. What was the speed on his last set of these? Two were clocked at 91 and the other five were clocked at 92. While there was a reduction in his velocity from the first two innings this was only due to the fact that most of his four seam fastballs in those innings were clocked between 93-95. The mix of cutters and change ups with the speed difference between these pitches and his fastball also kept the White Sox hitters off balance all night.
Does this mean Hughes is back to being the pitcher he was during that amazing stretch pre-All Star game last year? Does it mean he will not falter again as he did in the next game after the Jays game where he gave up 7 earned in 4 1/3 with the Yankees up by 12 and could not stay long enough to earn the win? No, but this was a game that certainly can be built on and allows the Yankees to breathe just a little easier and perhaps is a good sign of things to come.
Then in AAA LHP Manny Banuelos had his first start with the AAA SWB Yankees. He pitched a solid five innings giving up 2 runs (both earned) on 7 hits while striking out 8 with just 3 walks (and according to some many of these calls were questionable) and of 100 pitches 62 were strikes along with an unofficial count of 17 swings and misses. His command was extremely good, fastball speed was impressive (91-92 for the most part and last pitch of the game was 93), and he worked around a couple of tight spots in a close game and had six ground ball outs and not one ball hit in the air for an out. While detractors will point to the high number of base runners and high pitch count it was an impressive first AAA start nevertheless. As a left handed pitcher and with the Yankees concerns about lack of choices for left handed pitchers out of the pen I would not be surprised to see Banuelos up with the big league club after one more start with AAA.
On the AA level we got to see another of the Killer Bs at work and in this case it was RHP Dellin Betances going for the Trenton Thunder. While the final line of just four innings and 90 pitches (53 strikes) while giving up three runs (all earned), six hits, and walking four while striking five is not as impressive as the Banuelos start it was the speed of his fastball which touched as high as 98 and was consistently above 90 that is newsworthy. The biggest concern for Betances has been his inability to keep his pitch count down which is limiting the number of innings he has pitched. In 19 starts Betances has pitched just 93.1 innings which is less than five innings per start with a very high walk (and admittedly very high K rate as well) per 9 innings ratio. If Betances can start to limit his pitch count and extend out the number of innings he pitches per game his fastball and strikeout ability could truly benefit the Yankees in the future.
In addition to the pitching tonight, with GM Brian Cashman in the house, Jesus Montero in his first three at bats had 2 hard hit singles and an A-Rod like bomb of a home run off a 97 mph fastball that was reported to have traveled over 440 feet.
Yes Yankees fans the future is so bright it might be time to start reaching for those shades.