PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Jared Hughes took a huge step forward during the 2011 season after he changed his arm slot to a three-quarters release, and was moved into the bullpen. The hard throwing 6′ 7″ right-hander believed throwing over the top would be more deceiving for hitters, trying to use his height to get hitters out. But once Hughes moved his arm slot, he saw himself throwing more strikes. He also saw himself move quickly through the Pirates system.
“That was big,” Hughes said on his arm slot change. “That, and going into the bullpen and being a little bit more aggressive. The three-quarter arm slot was huge. It really helped me throw more strikes. I got a little bit better movement on the ball, threw better strikes. And that’s the key. If you can get ahead in the count, you’re going to be a more successful pitcher.”
After starting the 2011 season in Double-A Altoona, where he made 11 starts and appeared in two games in relief, Hughes was promoted to Triple-A Indianapolis in June where he was used exclusively in the bullpen. Hughes posted a 2.11 ERA over 42.2 innings with 45 strikeouts before getting a call to the big leagues on September 6.
Hughes tossed 1.1 scoreless innings in his Major League debut the next day against the Houston Astros. He went on to toss eight scoreless frames before giving up his first big league run. Overall, Hughes appeared in 12 games with the Pirates where he allowed five runs on nine hits over 11.0 innings. He walked four and struck out 10.
“To improve [getting] left-handed hitters [out] is huge, being able to get inside on them,” Hughes said of what he gained from his experience last season. “I can also take last year and take it as a confidence booster and say, ‘Hey, I can hang. I can go up there. I can throw my sinker and hang in the big leagues, have success, and help this team win.’ That’s how I can take last year to improve this year.”
Over the offseason, Hughes was focused on being able to pitch to left-handers more efficiently. Against lefties in the Majors, Hughes allowed three runs on three hits over 4.0 innings, which included a home run and three walks.
“Last year I did well at times, but I also realized I needed to be able to pitch left-handers more efficiently,” Hughes said. “Getting inside on them, so I can open up the outside of the plate to my sinker. Also to be able to throw a change-up low in the zone to throw off their timing.”
Hughes said so far this spring it’s working well, and he continues to work on it during Grapefruit League game action. Over eight appearances, Hughes has allowed four runs on 12 hits over 9.0 innings. He’s walked two while punching out 10.
“I’m still working on it this spring,” Hughes said. “Just trying to bring it into games. That was the big plan this offseason in terms of my pitching. I’m trying to get it going during games now.”
With just a week left until Opening Day, Hughes still remains in big league camp, looking to head north with the club to Pittsburgh. The 26-year-old is battling for a spot in the Pirates ‘pen, which has some stiff competition this spring.
“It’s going to be a good ‘pen,” Hughes said. “We’ve got a lot of talented guys. All each one of can do is focus on ourselves, focus on our team, and go out there and try to win games.”
As far as goals he’s set for himself this spring, Hughes has short-term ones, just as every player does. But the righty envisions one that many fans are holding on to hope for one day: A World Series Championship.
“I have short-term goals in terms of working hard and learning how to pitch always,” Hughes said. “In terms of long-term goals, winning a championship in Pittsburgh.”