Scouting Notes: Diminished Use of Cutter Leads to Hughes' Dominance
On the other side of things, Brian Duensing never seemed able to locate his breaking ball well enough to give the Yankees hitters something to think about aside from the fastball. As locked in as the New York bats are right now, they aren't missing too many mistake pitches out over the plate.
Hughes Takes Fast Road
Phil Hughes had a very strong regular season, but throughout the year there was a great deal of inconsistency with his second and third pitches. He relies heavily on his fastball, but when he didn't have his best heater he had some serious problems. On Saturday night against Minnesota, Hughes had both his best fastball and his secondary pitches working in his favor.
However, there was one key pitch -- typically a mainstay in his arsenal -- that was noticeably absent for most of the game. That pitch was his cutter. While I've liked Hughes' integration of the cutter as another weapon this season, it's also gotten him into a lot of trouble because he has fallen in love with it at times. Some of his biggest mistakes have been with the cutter, and it's cost him dearly against left-handed hitters on many occasions, especially in terms of the home run ball.
The cutter has often caused Hughes to drop his arm and has impacted his command of his other pitches as well. The lower arm angle has hurt the sharpness of his 12-6 curveball as well as his ability to get his fastball to the outside corner against right-handed hitters. So, from the beginning, when we hardly saw any cutters from Hughes against the Twins lineup, it was a good sign for the remainder of his outing.
By my count, Hughes threw six cutters in seven innings. During the regular season, Hughes would usually try to pound the cutter in to left-handed hitters. He didn't take any gambles like that on Saturday. The few cutters we saw were primarily to right-handers, namely Michael Cuddyer and Delmon Young. It gave him a little wrinkle and change of speed to righties with whom he was looking to avoid the heart of the plate. Used in this way against righties, the cutter is going to get far more consistent results.
Hughes worked at 91-94 mph with the fastball throughout the evening and consistently overpowered the Twins' lineup over seven outstanding innings. He's very difficult to pick up with his short arm action, and the nice mix of his breaking ball kept the idea of an off-speed pitch in the back of the minds of the Minnesota hitters just enough to keep them off balance.
People will say Hughes carved up the Twins' lineup on his fastball alone, and while his fastball really was electric in Game 3, his ability to establish his changeup against left-handed hitters in the early innings was a huge contributing factor to his success as well. He only threw a handful of them, but he did enough to implant the thought of a changeup in the minds of those dangerous lefties.
This wasn't the Hughes of the regular season. He went away from the cutter that had gotten him into trouble at times, mixed his off-speed pitches just enough and went to work with a dominant fastball.
Duensing Lit Up
Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano were on their game in the first two contests of the Twins-Yankees ALDS, and they still had fits with the Yankee lineup. Brian Duensing did not have his best stuff in Game 3, and it was clear from the start it was going to a long night for the Twins southpaw.
Duensing had the velocity to start the game, working at 90-92 mph, and when he's on he can locate a good changeup and slider. The slider, in particular, just wasn't there for him in this one. He routinely hung that pitch up in the zone to Yankee hitters. To his credit, he continued to go to it as he tried to right the ship, but he never could. You need to be nearly perfect against this type of lineup, and not having a feel for a second pitch makes it nearly impossible to have any success.
• Matt Garza came up as big as the Rays could have asked on Saturday, and he did so by giving the Rangers quite a few different speeds. He was able to locate his fastball at 93-96 mph in the lower quadrants and mostly stay away from Texas' power, but he also spotted his breaking ball exceptionally well. If you can't locate a second and third pitch to keep the Rangers lineup honest, they'll continue to pound the ball the way they did against David Price and James Shields.
• The Rays may be down in the series, but thus far they have to be pretty happy with their handling of Josh Hamilton. He's sprinkled in his hits, but so far the Rays' steady diet of slow breaking balls has kept him pretty quiet in the power department. There is no one way to go at a hitter like Hamilton, but they have moved the ball in and out and changed his eye level very well.
Frankie Piliere spent the last three seasons working as a scout, most recently in the professional scouting department for the Texas Rangers in 2009. He now serves as the National Baseball Analyst here at FanHouse.