Yesterday was the 2012 debut for quite a few pitchers who had forgettable 2011s. Phil Hughes, Carlos Zambrano, and Bronson Arroyo were all abysmal a season ago, and each took the mound on Sunday looking for bigger and better things in 2012. Arroyo and Zambrano faced off against each other in Cincinnati, while Hughes took on the Rays in Tampa. Lets breakdown the day each pitcher had.
Phil Hughes had an abysmal 2011. He came into Spring Training out of shape, never found his proper velocity, struggled with injury, and ultimately posted a 5-5 record with a 5.79 ERA while allowing more than 10 hits per 9. Hughes went into yesterday’s start coming off a solid spring, where he worked hard and saw his velocity return.
Hughes didn’t quite get the results he was looking for in yesterday’s game, only lasting 4.2 innings while allowing 2 runs on 5 hits and 2 walks. He did strikeout 5 batters, and generated a good number of swing-and-misses, which was a problem in 2011. Hughes’ fastball location was a little up in the zone, which cost him on the Pena homerun, but otherwise the Rays struggled to square up on the heater. When Phil Hughes was dominating during the 2010 season, his fastball generated plenty of poor swings, resulting in strikeouts, so this is a good sign.
His issue yesterday was his inability to stay out of deep counts, which caused him to throw nearly 100 pitches despite his limited workload. The Tampa hitters did an excellent job getting into 3 ball counts, and the game plan seemed to be to make Phil work, which the lineup did an excellent job of. Hughes really needs to work on getting batters out earlier in the count. He would be wise to look at his opponent Jeremy Hellickson, who kept the Yankees off-balance and didn’t reach 100 pitches until the 9th inning.
In terms of pitch velocity, location, and movement, Hughes had an encouraging day. His change-up, which he used frequently, was the best in his Major League career. Hughes fastball also sat around 91-93, and was touching 95 occasionally, which is an encouraging sign. He struggled to top 90 mph at any point last year, so expect more encouraging results in the future.
Zambrano faced a difficult challenge yesterday, facing an imposing Cincinnati Reds lineup that was 2nd in the NL a year ago in runs scored. Zambrano needs to prove that he is still a serviceable pitcher after a rough 2011 that saw him removed from the Cubs after a mid-August fracas. Yesterday, after a very ugly 1st inning, where Zambrano struggled with his command, he was able to put up an impressive outing.
In the aforementioned 1st inning, Zambrano immediately allowed 2 solid hits followed by 2 walks. Due to his pitching and in part to some suspect defense by Jose Reyes, Zambrano was tagged for 3 runs. In the 1st, both his location and his velocity were very poor. He struggled to keep the ball on the edges of the plate, either missing entirely or leaving it down the middle. His velocity was barely topping 90 on his fastball and he sat mostly between 87-89 mph.
But for the next 4 innings of his outing, Zambrano shut down the Cincinnati offense. Before he allowed the Bruce homerun in the 6th inning, he appeared dominant, retiring 12 batters in a row. He struck out 6 of the hitters as well, which is a crucial factor to his success. Zambrano’s slider was able to regain its bite, resulting in plenty of swing-and-misses as well as a couple strikeouts.
When Zambrano was an All-Star caliber pitcher, his K/9 rate frequently sat between 8-9. A season ago it was a measly 6.2, which was reflected in his 4.82 ERA. If Zambrano keeps his K/9 rate above 8 like he did yesterday, the Marlins will have themselves a serviceable mid-rotation pitcher.
Bronson Arroyo had a 2011 to forget, going 9-12 with a 5.07 ERA, allowing an atrocious 10.3 hits per 9, with a K rate under 5. Arroyo has never been a truly great pitcher, but has one All-Star appearance and has made 30+ starts every year since 2004. Yesterday was his opening start of the 2012 season and it went about as you would expect.
The Miami lineup was able to pickup 10 hits in 6.1 innings of work, scoring 5 runs (4 earned). Arroyo has always relied on an array of breaking balls, thrown from any arm angle to deceive hitters. Yesterday he was able to prevent the Marlins from making truly solid contact and was even able to strikeout 4 batters, so that part of the game must be considered a success. But any time you allow 10 hits in just over 6 innings of work, your team won’t be winning many games.
Cincinnati may be in some trouble if Arroyo can’t get his hits allowed under control. During the summer months, when the ball really starts flying, some of those hits will start leaving the park. If Arroyo continues to surrender hits at this rate, Cincy will be lucky to win 10 games this year.
Each of these pitchers saw some encouraging signs in their opening performances. Hughes and Zambrano were able to prevent base runners at an acceptable rate while posting near elite K rates. Hughes in particular looked solid. If he can locate his changeup like he did yesterday, Hughes is a good bet to throw for an ERA under 4.00. Arroyo showed some excellent breaking balls and even struck out some hitters, but his performance will have to improve in the future if Cincy wants to keep winning.