A totally different outcome for Phil Hughes in his return to the Bronx

Rich Mancuso

Phil Hughes was booed mildly at Yankee Stadium Sunday afternoon when his name was announced before the first pitch as the starting pitcher for the visiting Minnesota Twins. He was the second former Yankee starter making a return to the Bronx this season. Fans get one more opportunity to greet and boo Robinson Cano of the Mariners Monday night in the Bronx, a makeup game of April 30th that was postponed by rain..

When the Yankees decided to not bring back Hughes, their first round pick in 2004 after seven seasons, where he compiled a 56-50 record with an ERA of 4.53, it was, as they say, all about business. The fly ball pitcher was not fit to pitch at Yankee Stadium after a miserable 4-14 season of 2013 that went with an ERA of 5.19.

But, baseball has become a business. The Twins have a healthy and happy Hughes and it showed Sunday after a masterful eight-inning outing against his former team. The 27-year old right-hander never looked more comfortable on the mound at Yankee Stadium holding his former team to two-runs, three hits, and striking out six.

The Twins with six runs in the ninth inning, including a home run off Yankees closer David Robertson went on to win 7-2, taking the series and Hughes (6-1), won his sixth straight game.

Best part of it, the knock about Hughes was his tendency to throw the home run ball at Yankee Stadium. He was more of a ground out pitcher. After his best outing of the season perhaps the Yankees, with a depleted and injured pitching staff have second thoughts of not bringing him back to the Bronx.

“I had pretty good stuff pretty good fast ball.  “Tipped my cap to Larry Rotshchild as I was coming out,” said Hughes about his former pitching coach.”It was a little strange but after the first inning I was hoping I wasn’t walking towards their dugout.”

The fans, he said, by the bullpen area did not give him a Bronx cheer. He also threw a ball to one of them.  And as the game went along, Hughes got into a groove after giving up a run in the first inning.

“Got into my game routine and did not think about it,” he commented.  “I had pretty good stuff and pretty good fast ball.” The three hits were all consecutive in the fourth inning and then he would retire his final 15 batters. In fact he retired the powerless Yankees in that inning after loading the bases with none out.

He added, "It was a little strange but once I was on the mound everything cleared away and was able to focus on pitching. After the first inning I was just hoping I wouldn’t start walking toward their dugout.”

The obvious question is, did his win in the Bronx have any type of vindication, this after a season of discontent and the Yankees making little effort to bring him back?  Though Hughes wasn’t one to show emotion and he showed no change in his demeanor.  

“Doesn’t mean any more,” Hughes said about the win being more significant against the Yankees.  He signed a three-year contract with the twins last December 5th and has been part of a pitching staff that has a combined 4.41 ERA.

He added, “Looking at last year, obvious there was emotion before the game… It was easy. I had a few wandering thoughts as I was warming up.  Once I threw the first pitch it was all business. I won four games last year. I know how precious these are.”

In his seven seasons as a Yankee, Hughes' career record at the new Yankee Stadium was 28-21 with a 4.82 ERA and 71 HRs allowed in 356-1/3 innings. The problems of the home run ball also hindered his efforts but the Yankees said it was all about business and nothing to do with his command in their decision to not re-sign him.

“You make pitches in this game you get people out,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire commented about his starter. “What we hoped would happen, happened. He was relaxed. He’s under complete control and moving the ball in and out. He never stopped attacking, made some pitches and that’s what baseball is all about.”

Gardenhire added, “You come back, you want to win…Its baseball. He wanted to come back here and win a game for this baseball team.” Hughes was going to get the loss until the Yankees bullpen implosion in the ninth. And another former Yankee, Eduardo Nunez, who was a teammate with Hughes, and traded to the Twins in early April, had a two-run double in the ninth that added to the lead and made Hughes a winner.

“Obviously I have some history here,” said Hughes, “and there was some emotion before the game. But my satisfaction postgame is equal to any other win.”

Yankees manager Joe Girardi had his point of view, not making excuses as to how his lineup failed to produce, though two of his power hitters Mark Teixiera and Carlos Beltran were out of the lineup nursing lingering pain, (Teixera wrist) and a bad elbow for Beltran, who may return in the next week.

But, Hughes had everything Girardi could hope for.

"The one thing that he stayed away from, that we saw a lot of last year, is he’s stayed away from the long counts," Girardi said. "And his cutter seems to be more consistent this year. Those are the big things. There are a number of occasions he’d be in the sixth and he’d be at 100 pitches and that wasn't the case today." 

Hughes certainly came back and won a game for his team. The Yankees at this point may be questioning after this return to the Bronx, why did they let Phil Hughes go?

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