Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Aggressive Hughes Finds Way in Bullpen

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Aggressive Hughes Finds Way in Bullpen

Article excerpt

Two words -- a familiar high school football cheer -- helped Jared Hughes find the form that made him a major league pitcher: Be aggressive.

It was 2011, and Hughes earned his first call-up to Class AAA Indianapolis, a move that put him in the bullpen on a permanent basis. There, pitching coach Tom Filer and manager Dean Treanor encouraged Hughes to be aggressive with his sinker and attack hitters.

"That kind of rubbed off on me," Hughes said. "I got way more aggressive, got the ball down, and that helped me become a better pitcher."

He arrived in Indianapolis with a career 4.47 ERA in more than five minor league seasons. This season, he has a 2.22 ERA with the Pirates, the best among all National League rookies.

His aggressive style seems contradictory to his personality. Hughes is pleasant and upbeat in the clubhouse, and his offseason hobby of choice is running or bodyboarding.

But, when that bullpen phone rings and his name is called, Hughes develops a piercing stare and intensity that he carries to the mound.

"He's been very focused," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He works extremely hard in preparation and conditioning. He's got a very resilient arm. And he loves to compete."

Hughes, 26, is a sinkerball pitcher whose slider is a work in progress, Hurdle said. Once mastered, his slider has the potential to be a weapon, which would make him an even more dangerous pitcher. He is versatile, too, having pitched in long-relief and late-inning roles.

Hurdle wonders if his arm can get stronger and if he can develop a third pitch, which could enhance Hughes' value to the bullpen or starting rotation.

There also are variables that work against young pitchers.

"I have seen it happen where a guy gets hot and they go to the post and you pitch them a whole lot, then a year or two down the road, you never hear from them again," Hurdle said.

Hughes was a surprise addition to the major league roster last season, one of a handful of September call-ups that joined the team when rosters reached 40 players.

"I was not expecting it," he said. "I knew I had done well and that there would be somewhat of a chance. But, honestly, I never had that much success, and I was kind of thinking, well, they might not do it. …

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