CINCINNATI — Jared Hughes knows that if he does his job the media won’t bother him and the only recognition he gets, “Is a whole lot of handshakes in the post-game clubhouse.”
But if he, or any other relief pitcher, blows a game their locker will be surrounded by media to ask, “Hey, what happened? Why did you mess up?”
When asked about that, Hughes smiled and said, “Funny how that works, isn’t it?”
And that’s how it worked Tuesday night. Hughes made an important contribution in the Cincinnati Reds’ 9-7 12-inning victory over the Atlanta Braves.
The media, though, swarmed Scooter Gennett who produced a suicide squeeze bunt to perfection and hit two home runs, the last one a two-run walk-off blast. And they crowded Tyler Mahle, who pitched six hitless innings.
Hughes? He undressed and dressed in total privacy after he pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innnings, 42 pitches, to shut down the Braves after they scored four runs in the top of the ninth to tie the game, 7-7.
It was the most innings he had pitched since a three-inning stint May 15, 2015 for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
It was something different and a throwback, a move that shouldn’t surprise anybody who knows how old school manager Jim Riggleman operates. He doesn’t necessarily subscribe to using a relief pitcher one inning at a time and taking a guy out even after he pitches a 1-2-3 inning.
Riggleman said he had no qualms about sending Hughes back out for a third inning, even though he has made 13 appearances, one behind the National League leaders.
“I think we can ask more from our pitchers,” he said. “What Jared did last night (multiple innings) used to be routine. I know it is not routine any more and I was taking him out of his comfort level. But he is a veteran and even if he isn’t comfortble he can pitch.”
He asks his pitchers how they feel and he said, “If they say, ‘Oh, I’m all right,’ you know he ain’t all right,” said Rigglemn. “If he barks down your throat and shouts, ‘Why are you even asking?,’ then you know he is all right.”
Hughes said any time he is on the mound he is as comfortable as he would be sitting in his family room La-z-boy.
“What I’d prefer to do is throw three pitches, get three outs and sit down,” he said. “But it is fun to have an opportunity to throw a few innings.
“My longest stint was three innings and 48 pitches and I was getting close to it, but I’m glad I didn’t need to do it,” he added. “I just try to make them put the ball in play and trust the infield and trust the outfield. And I had some good plays behind me.”
Hughes laughed when it was mentioned he started his appearance Tuesday night by hitting the first batter he faced. “I always try to pitch to contact, but I don’t want to make contact with the hitter,” he said.
If Riggelman is a throwback, so is Hughes, even though he is only 32. He entertains as well as performs and fans dig it when the bullpen swings open and Hughes sprints to the mound. Most pitchers walk slowly, as if a guillotine is at the end of their stroll. Hughes runs as if a banana split awaits him on the mound.
From 2005 to 2008, the Reds had a relief pitcher named Todd Coffey and despite his near 300 pounds he sprinted from the bullpen to the mound.
“I remember watching Todd Coffey and his run-in was much better than mine in terms of looks and he ran faster,” said Hughes.
The genesis of the Hughes modus operandi goes back to his last days in the minors and he said, “When I was in Triple-A a back-up catcher, Chris Watts, told him, ‘Hey, you may not be playing for them much longer,” because i had some struggles. ‘You should just start sprinting to the mound and start throwing as hard as you can.’ I did that and two months later I was in the big leagues having success.”
Before Hughes enters a game, the last pitch he throws in the bullpen is, “As hard as I can throw it. I even grunt. And the last warm-up pitch on the mouind is has hard as I can throw it.”
And for a good chuckle, turn to page 119 in the Reds 2018 media guide. On top of the page, which contains Hughes’ bio, is a head shot of Hughes and he is snarling as if he just sat on a box of thumb tacks.
Players in most bio photos are showing a prom smile, a photo that would make mom proud. Not Hughes.
“I know my photo is going to be on the big screen when I’m playing,” he said. “I want the other team to know I’m a serious guy. If they see a big smile from me on the scoreboard they might not think I’m serious. I want them to know I mean business and I’m a serious guy.”
Hughes paused a moment and then said, “Well, not long ago my mom told me I have to smile next time so she can have a picture to show her friends.”
Said Riggleman about using his bullpen, “I do think we can ask a little more out of them. We can raise the bar on how much we can get out of guys. We don’t want to get anybody hurt, but it looks to me like they all get hurt anyway.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY
Manager Jim Riggleman on what he would have done if pitcher Tyler Mahle had taken his no-hitter beyond six innings with his pitch-count mounting: “I was hoping Tyler would make me make a very difficult decision.”