Phil Hughes had seven strikeouts tonight, and the way he remembers it, all but one came on a modified version of his cutter. Disappointed in the pitch this spring, Hughes tweaked his cutter grip and turned the pitch into more of a slider, something slightly slower and bigger.
“It’s probably technically more slider now,” Hughes said. “But I’ll still call it a cutter because I don’t want to get in the mode of getting around it and lazy with it. If I just tell myself it’s a cutter, I’ll throw it with conviction.”
Hughes threw a slider when he was younger, including his early years in the Yankees minor league system, but he eventually dumped the pitch and picked up the cutter. When the cutter disappointed him again last week, Hughes had Larry Rothschild work with him on finding a new cutter/slider grip. He tried a few slight modifications, found one he liked and used the pitched 25 to 30 times tonight. He threw it more than either his curveball or changeup.
When Hughes was pitching well early last season a lot of it had to do with the success of his cutter. As the season progressed the cutter became less effective and his results suffered as a result and as the season ended his starts relied on whether or not his cutter was on that night, but he never had that consistency he had early on.
That’s precisely the reason why this change has me excited. If Hughes and Rothschild have been able to change his cutter so he can be more consistent with it, Hughes’ results will be more consistent too. For years the Yankees have insisted that Hughes is a four-pitch pitcher, but in reality he’s always struggled with his cutter/slider and changeups and been more of a fastball/curveball guy who has two other excuses for pitches.
This preseason he’s worked hard with his changeup and if he can turn this slider into a strong and effective pitch it will go a long way into helping him become a consistent front end starter that we’ve always thought he could be.
What do you think? Let us know.