Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Break He Needed

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Break He Needed

Article excerpt

There was a moment in spring training when catcher Russell Martin looked Jared Hughes square in the eye and gave him a piece of advice that launched his season: trust your breaking ball.

As the weeks, and now months, have unfolded, Hughes has morphed into a high-leverage pitcher for the Pirates, based partially on the advancement of his slider.

His bread-and-butter pitch will always be the sinker, but it has played better because of his breaking ball.

"I think that was a big moment in time," Hughes said, recalling the conversation. "[Martin] said, 'Hey man that's a good pitch, just throw it with confidence. You need to have confidence in that pitch. If you can go out there and throw that slider with confidence, it's going to make it really difficult for guys to cheat with your sinker.' Because it moves in the opposite direction."

Hughes is using the slider at a similar rate as he did in 2013 (12.6 percent), according to data compiled by Fangraphs.

It's simply playing better, figures manager Clint Hurdle.

"It's the command of the sinker. He does pitch inside so people don't get comfortable to both sides of the plate," Hurdle said. "But actually his breaking ball showed up probably the best. It's the best breaking ball we've seen him have, the best slider."

Hughes was solid in 2012, but took a step backwards in 2013 when he compiled his career worst ERA in part due to coming off an injury.

He said he spoke at length with pitching coach Ray Searage and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas and came up with a plan to adjust.

This season, Hughes has a career-best 1.94 ERA in 461/3 innings pitched, and a career-best WHIP of 1.122.

"I didn't pitch very well last year," Hughes said. "I looked back, listened to what Ray and [Rojas] told me and I really made some adjustments. It's a constant game of learning."

It has paid dividends.

"It seems like every year we've had a go-to guy for the bases loaded," Hurdle said. "Jared has turned out to be that guy a little bit more than anybody else this year."

Short answers for a short bench

The Pirates have faced a double whammy this past week playing without Andrew McCutchen (fractured rib) and Neil Walker (back tightness).

Beyond the obvious production and defensive play lost from two of the team's marquee players, neither was placed on the disabled list during the team's series against the Miami Marlins. …

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