How do you follow-up a season in which you set a new Major League Baseball all time record? Of course you go out and have an even better year. That’s exactly what Phil Hughes plans on doing in 2015 for the Twins, and there’s plenty of reason to think that could end up being the case.
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A season ago, Phil Hughes compiled a ridiculous 11.63 strikeout to walk ratio. Not only was that the best mark in major league history, but it was nearly eight strikeouts better than his career average. While that number may regress, Hughes can actually be better than he was a season ago. Pitching nearly 210 innings, Hughes owned a 3.52 ERA and a 1.130 WHIP. Those numbers don’t tell the whole story however.
At Target Field, Hughes found a bigger ballpark than the Cracker Jack Box he was used to for the Yankees. Despite the larger confines however, Hughes actually pitcher better on the road. Whether or not that was outfielders like Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia struggling with the dimensions at home or not, Hughes has room for improvement in Minnesota. On top of the home numbers looking to go up, Hughes had stretches where he looked like the best pitcher in the major leagues.
From April 20 through June 22, Hughes pitched 12 games in which he threw to a 2.69 ERA while pitching over 80 innings. After hitting somewhat of a rough patch prior to the All Star Game, and likely keeping him from pitching in front of the home town fans, he went on another run to end the season. From August 5 through September 24, a stretch of 10 games, Hughes owned a 2.38 ERA pitching in over 72 innings while striking out 68 batters. The period between Hughes’ brilliance (June 28 through July 30) saw him compile a 5.74 ERA over seven starts. Had the Twins ace been able to avoid the dry spell, the season could have ended differently.
Finishing seventh in the Cy Young voting a season ago, both of the two positive time periods for Hughes would have vaulted him to the front of the discussion. While his 2014 ERA of 3.52 is nothing to be ashamed of, it left plenty of room for improvement. Wondering how that would be achieved, Mike Berardino if the St. Paul Pioneer Press caught up with Hughes to ask what he is focusing on for 2015.
Hughes puts a lot of thought into the answer, likely as he has done when it comes to preparation for 2015. A key point is brought up early as Hughes says he is focused on not taking anything for granted. To improve upon an already solid first year for the Twins, he will need to utilize many of the same processes and practices he went through a season ago.
Diving into his repertoire, Hughes goes right to the heart of his success. Noting fastball command and cutter control of the plate, he highlights exactly what allowed him to break a record a season ago. Hitting the strike zone early and often allowed the Twins ace to find himself in control of many counts, and put batters at a disadvantage. Understanding the importance of getting ahead early and often, should allow Hughes to consistently put batters at a disadvantage.
Unlocking an even better season is not at all a monumental task for a pitcher that should have been regarded as a huge signing for the Twins. In his poor stretch a season ago, Hughes gave up five or more earned runs four times. He didn’t hit that mark at any other point over the course of 25 starts. Limiting the blow up innings and big run outings, 2015 Phil Hughes could end up being in the thick of the Cy Young discussion.
At 29 years old, Phil Hughes may be entering what will go down as the best season of his career, and it sounds like he has plans in place to make that happen.
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