Scouting Notes: Rangers Time Phil Hughes' Fastball
The stuff was the same, and so was the conviction, but against this type of lineup, Hughes needed more than just the fastball that carried him through the outing against Minnesota.
Hughes' Fastball Not Enough
Some lineups get on the fastball better than others, and the Rangers are one of those lineups. If you are going to be one of those pitchers that relies heavily on the fastball, to beat these teams you have to be near-perfect with your command and you cannot fall behind in counts. Hughes wasn't close to perfect with his command on Saturday, though, and he continued to fall behind in counts.
The other solution is successfully mixing in your secondary pitches to go with the fastball. Hughes made an attempt to do that on Saturday but just couldn't pull it off with any consistency. From the get-go we saw Hughes trying to establish his cutter on the outside part of the plate to the Texas righties and he also tried a lot more curveballs.
The big issue, however, was that Hughes was unable to locate those pitches. On top of that, the fastball command he had against the Twins was also gone. Working at 93-94 mph with his short arm action, he still had more than enough to miss bats early. But, as the game rolled along the Rangers made the adjustment Hughes had to know they'd eventually make. They began to sit on the fastball early in the count as it was more than evident that Hughes had nothing else to offer them.
The fastball command -- or lack of fastball command, in this case -- was surprising compared to Hughes' last outing, but what shouldn't have come as much of surprise was his lack of feel for the secondary pitches. Looking back at that Division Series outing, Hughes did establish his curveball but never proved he could routinely locate it in any quadrant of the strike zone.
The Rangers' lineup requires far more than simply showing them a secondary pitch. If you're going to beat them, much like with the Yankees lineup, you need to locate at least one secondary pitch in the strike zone. Hughes never really came close to doing that in this one, but of course the question is why.
When it comes to his curveball, his command of it has been a recurring problem for Hughes despite his strong 2010 campaign. Sometimes he lacks the extension he needs and begins to push his pitches. You'll see his fastball command suffer from that and you'll also see a lot of bouncing curveballs. And, we saw quite a bit of that on Saturday afternoon.
• Robinson Cano is frighteningly locked in at the plate right now, and it's a small glimpse of just how special his bat can be when he's hot. Cano is staying inside the ball exceptionally well right now, and he can react later to the fastball than most big-league players. Because of that, there's so few ways to get him out away with the slow stuff. When he's right, and he couldn't be more right than he is at this moment, he has no holes.
• Ryan Howard is beginning to use the whole field again and the Giants are going to have to beware. It typically seems to take Howard some time to find his swing in the playoffs, and he's getting close to hot right about now. The Giants will need to continue to keep him honest on the inner third if they're going to have success against him.
• The Rangers came away victorious on Saturday but they have to be at least somewhat concerned with the performance of Neftali Feliz in the ninth inning. While his fastball was explosive as usual, sitting at 96-99 mph, the command was lacking and he didn't show the Yankees much in the way of secondary offerings. This wasn't a close game but he is going to come into play over the next few games in all likelihood. If he can't adapt and refine his approach, the Yankees are going to do some damage late in the game.
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.