NEW YORK--Phil Hughes' four-seam fastball has more life, more zip these days, its nastiness mirroring the attitudinal aggressiveness he possesses on the mound.
It embodies a method of attacking hitters that made him very effective coming out of the bullpen in 2009, but the reinstatement of this mindset in 2012 is more a product of self-preservation than anything else.
Hughes (3-4, 5.50 ERA), who fell to 1-4 with a 7.48 ERA following a 7-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on May 1, recently decided to hearken back to that reliever, hold-nothing-back approach, and so far it has yielded two consecutive wins, including his 7 2/3-inning, one-run effort in New York's 6-2 victory over the Seattle Mariners before a crowd of 43,954 at Yankee Stadium on Saturday.
"He seems much more aggressive," Yankees left fielder Raul Ibanez, who went 2-for-3 with an RBI double and solo home run on Saturday, told Yahoo! Contributor Network. "Early in the count he's throwing strikes and he's moving his [four-seam] fastball around."
Hughes, troubled for much of 2011 by an inflamed right shoulder (commonly labeled a "dead arm"), regularly throws his variant of the pitch at around 93 mph, and its velocity appears greater when he has a sharp curveball with which to pair it.
Prior to giving up a solo homer to Seattle's Mike Carp in the seventh inning of Saturday's contest--which marked the sole run he allowed on the afternoon--Hughes used a 93 mph four-seamer to strike Carp out looking with men on first and second to end the fourth. He recorded three of his four strikeouts vs. the Mariners using the pitch.
"That's always been my go-to pitch," Hughes, speaking to YCN after beating Seattle, said. "It's something that if it's not there, I can make some adjustments, but it's really tough.
"My four-seam fastball is what I rely on the most and it's been pretty good lately."
Ibanez, who has four homers and eight RBIs over four games on New York's current six-game homestand, knows firsthand how difficult squaring up Hughes' "go-to" pitch can be when the starter is at his best.
"He's got a really good fastball; I can tell you from facing him," the first-year Yankee said. "He looks very confident."
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