Twins' Hughes has things under control
MAY 20, 2014 1:00p ET
Even during his time pitching in the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium, Phil Hughes has always been a flyball pitcher.
That was exemplified in Hughes' last outing Thursday against Boston, in which he recorded zero groundball outs in six innings of work as the Twins won 4-3 in the series finale. Hughes has seemingly gotten comfortable with the dimensions of Target Field -- known as a pitchers' park -- and had no problem getting outs through the air. It's been that way all season, as his groundball to flyout ratio of 0.47 is the second-lowest in the majors among qualified pitchers.
Hughes has done something else that's led to his early success in his first year in Minnesota: limit the walks. For the past four starts, he hasn't just limited them -- he's eliminated them. The right-hander has walked just six batters all season but has not registered a walk the last four games he's taken the mound.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Twins won all four of those games.
"I think we all know what happens when you start walking people and you start putting people on base, especially against teams with big lineups -- as a matter of fact, with anybody, I guess," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "He's been throwing the ball over the plate, but more than anything else, he's pounding the corners of the plate. He's staying out of the center of it and not trying to overthrow it. That's pretty good. We need it. He needs it. That's what we got him here for, and he's doing a really nice job."
Entering his start Wednesday in San Diego, Hughes has walked just 1.14 batters per nine innings. Only David Price of the Rays and Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees have walked fewer batters per nine innings among American League pitchers. The last batter Hughes walked was Alcides Escobar back on April 20 in the second inning of a game against the Royals. Since then, he's faced 119 batters without walking a single one.
The four consecutive walk-free starts for Hughes marks the longest such stretch of his eight-year big-league career. In his last two outings, he threw his curveball just twice each time. Instead, he relied mostly on his fastball command which, as is evidenced by the lack of walks, has been rather sharp lately.
"I wouldn't say I'm reinventing myself or anything like that. It's just a matter of execution," Hughes said after his start against the Red Sox. "Just throwing strikes, feeling comfortable with my mechanics and able to repeat my delivery and throw the ball over the plate."
Hughes was in jeopardy of walking a few batters in that Boston series, including Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. The Twins starter fell behind Ortiz 3-1 to lead off the sixth inning but got Ortiz to fly out on the fifth pitch of the at-bat.
Earlier in the game, Hughes and Boston's Xander Bogaerts were locked in a 14-pitch battle. Bogaerts fouled off six straight 3-2 offerings from Hughes, who continued to pound the strike zone. On the 14th pitch of the at-bat, Hughes finally retired Bogaerts when he flew out to center field on a cutter. That at-bat could have easily ended in a walk, but Hughes' command never wavered.
"He's not really throwing a lot of big breaking balls or anything like that. He just keeps pounding it in and out and locating the heck out of it," Gardenhire said. "Against a team like that, that's pretty doggone good."
The way Hughes has pitched as of late is a welcomed change of pace from his first three starts in a Twins uniform. He was 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA just three games into his tenure in Minnesota, allowing at least four earned runs in each of those games. During his last four walk-free starts, though, Hughes was 3-0 with a 1.37 ERA and could have won a fourth game against Boston if not for a miscue from the Twins' bullpen.
The four wins already match the total of victories he had in pinstripes last year with New York, where he was 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA. Some people wondered about the Hughes signing when the Twins brought him in this offseason, citing the poor season he had with the Yankees in 2013.
But Hughes showed at times in New York that he can be an effective pitcher. He won 18 games as an All-Star in 2010 and was a 16-game winner in 2012. His walks have always been low, but by walking just 3.1 percent of the batters he's faced so far in 2014, Hughes has taken his command to another level with Minnesota.
"I feel like I can do a pretty good job of throwing strikes for the most part," Hughes said. "Sometimes it just works out where guys are swinging early and things like that. I'm not pinpoint by any means. I'm throwing the ball over the plate."
Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter