Once rated the #4 overall prospect in baseball by Baseball America going into the 2007 season, it has been a tough six years since for Phil Hughes. The right-hander entered 2013 with a career 4.39 ERA split between 103 starts and 49 relief appearances. Whether due to injuries, a lack of control, or a startling inability to miss bats, there was always something in Hughes’ way preventing him from enjoying success at the Major League level. Yankees fans either had already run out of patience with him or were nearing the tipping point.
After tossing eight shut-out innings against the Athletics today, Hughes has logged his fourth consecutive quality start dating back to April 18. In those four starts, he has thrown 28 innings, allowed six earned runs (1.93 ERA), struck out 30, walked five, and surrendered just two homers. This afternoon, his fastball averaged 93 MPH and hit 95 on occasion.
In his post-game press conference, manager Joe Girardi credited his pitcher’s success to mixing up his pitches as he went through the lineup the second and third time. Over his career, Hughes has gotten progressively worse with each trip through the lineup, allowing a .689 OPS the first time through, .794 the second time, and .845 the third.
It remains to be seen whether this is just a run of hot starts for Hughes or if the 26-year-old has finally turned the corner.
Angels’ right-handed reliever Bud Norris made his 23rd appearance of the season on Friday, and after just three pitches, he was done for the night. He worked a 2-1 count to Marlins’ Dee Gordon in the eighth inning, then promptly exited the field after experiencing some tightness in his right knee. Neither Norris nor manager Mike Scioscia believe the injury is cause for major concern, and the 32-year-old right-hander admitted that it may have had something to do with his lack of stretching before he took the mound. For now, he’s day-to-day with right knee soreness, with the hope that the issue doesn’t escalate over the next few days.
While the Angels are lucky to have avoided serious injury, they’ll need Norris to pitch at 100% if they want to stay competitive within the AL West. They currently sit a full nine games behind the league-leading Astros, and haven’t been helping their cause after taking five losses in their last eight games. Friday’s 8-5 finale marked their third consecutive loss of the week.
When healthy, Norris has been one of the better arms in the Angels’ bullpen. Through 23 2/3 innings, he’s pitched to a 2.66 ERA, 3.4 BB/9 and an outstanding 11.8 SO/9 in 23 outings. The righty hasn’t allowed a single run in four straight appearances, recording three saves and helping the club clinch four wins in that span. This is his second setback of the year after sustaining a partial fingernail tear on his pitching hand during spring training.
Max Scherzer is a force to be reckoned with. The Nationals’ right-hander delivered a season-high 13 strikeouts against the Padres on Friday, locking down his fifth win and his fourth double-digit strikeout performance of the year.
More remarkably, it was also the 53rd double-digit strikeout performance of Scherzer’s career, tying Clayton Kershaw for the most 10+ strikeout appearances by an active major league pitcher. Chris Sale is a distant third, with 43 to his name, though he’s been making considerable strides to catch up so far this spring.
Scherzer took the Padres to task on Friday night, whiffing 13 of 31 batters during his 108-pitch outing. He started strong, catching Allen Cordoba swinging on a 1-2 count to start the game and keeping the game scoreless until Ryan Schimpf unleashed a home run in the fourth inning. That was the first and final run the Padres managed off of Scherzer, who retired 14 consecutive batters following the blast and came one out shy of a complete game in the ninth inning. (Fittingly, Koda Glover polished off the win with a final strikeout, bringing the total to 14 on the night.)
It’ll take more than one stellar start to advance Scherzer and Kershaw on the all-time list, however. Their 53-game record ranks 13th, about 159 games behind second-place Hall of Fame hurler Randy Johnson and a full 162 games shy of the inimitable Nolan Ryan.