MINNEAPOLIS -- Phil Hughes maintains there is no connection between his sudden resurgence -- he has allowed just three runs over 15 innings in his past two starts -- and the looming presence of Ivan Nova in the New York Yankees' clubhouse and Michael Pineda for the Double-A Trenton Thunder.
"I want to pitch well every time I go out there, [regardless of] the circumstances," he said after earning his fourth win of the season in the Yankees' 7-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins. "There’s always something going on, you know? It seems like every year there’s rumors swirling around or something’s gonna happen. I just try to ignore it as much as I can and try to go out and pitch as well as I possibly can. I feel a lot better with what I’m doing and it just so happens we have some guys coming up and stuff like that."
So just mark it down as a happy coincidence for Hughes that just when he is under the most pressure about holding onto his roster spot, he comes up with two of his better performances of the season. It could be just as happy a coincidence for the Yankees that just as they approach the trade deadline, in desperate need of a bat, Hughes is suddenly starting to look like an attractive bargaining chip. With free agency looming this winter and the growing suspicion that his fly-ball style of pitching is supremely unsuited to the launching pad that is Yankee Stadium, Hughes could be the Yankees pitcher most likely to find a new home come July 31.
Certainly, the way he pitched Tuesday is one to go on the resume. In fact, all the Yankees need to show is a tape of Hughes' fourth inning, in which he put runners at second and third with none out, courtesy of a leadoff walk to Trevor Plouffe and a double by Oswaldo Arcia, only to escape via two looking strikeouts (Chris Parmelee and Aaron Hicks) and a groundout by Pedro Florimon.
Considering his recent penchant for unraveling in tough innings, it might have been Hughes' finest inning of the season.
"Just to get out of that inning, I felt like it really kind of swung the momentum in our favor," he said. "It gave our guys a chance to come back from that."
New York Yankees
After the Yankees responded with three runs in the top of the fifth on a two-run double by Alberto Gonzalez and an infield hit by Ichiro Suzuki, Hughes came back and did something else he has had trouble with this season -- hold the lead with a shutdown inning.
“That was big," he said. "If you get a lead, you don’t want to give it up. To be able to put up some zeros after letting that one run in in the third, it really helped us out. We scored three runs, the offense relaxed a little bit and it gives the guys a chance to tack on."
Hughes had not won a game since June 6 in Seattle and his overall record is an unimpressive 4-7, his ERA a hefty 4.55. But his past two outings have been impressive -- he allowed two runs over seven innings last week against Texas but took the loss when the Yankees were shut out by Derek Holland -- and, with another four starts before the deadline, he could either be pitching himself back into the good graces of the Yankees' rotation or onto someone else's.
“I feel a little bit better with my mechanics overall," he said. "I feel like I have better direction toward home plate, attacking guys and the fastball is staying more true to both sides of the plate. That’s been the key over the last couple starts. It’s something I worked on when I had the extra days before the start against Texas. I feel like that sort of stuff is paying off. I made a couple key pitches tonight. If I make a couple mistakes in some of those situations, it’s not the same story. A lot of it comes down to executing those key pitches in big situations. I was able to do that tonight.”
Question: Should the Yankees hold on to Hughes in their starting rotation? Or look to trade him for a hitter before the deadline? Let us know what you think below.