Jared Hughes has proven to be a huge asset in the New York Mets bullpen.
Shortly before summer camp started in 2020, the New York Mets signed right-handed reliever Jared Hughes to a one-year contract. Hughes was originally drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2006 from Long Beach State University, the same alma mater as “flying squirrel” Jeff McNeil. He had spent spring training in February and March with the Houston Astros, but after a 6.35 ERA in five appearances, he decided to opt-out of his Astros contract to work on his mechanics.
Still, Hughes came into 2020 with a career ERA of 2.88 over nine seasons with the Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds, and Philadelphia Phillies. For a Mets bullpen that had a 2019 ERA of 4.99, which was sixth-worst in baseball, his career numbers appropriately sparked interest in Mets camp.
Unfortunately, Hughes was sidelined for a few weeks with COVID-19 almost immediately after first reporting to Citi Field.
“About two days later, I felt some symptoms,” Hughes told Newsday in early August when he rejoined the team. “I said, ‘Hey, you need to test me right now.’ And I was positive. And then it took about another eight or nine days or so to fight off the symptoms. And I had a bunch of them.”
Luckily, Hughes recovered from the virus and was activated by the Mets on August 2. As of August 11, he has made four appearances and pitched 5.2 scoreless innings, surrendering one hit while striking out six. It’s a small sample size for sure, but Hughes has certainly shown the ability to both get key outs and pitch multiple innings per appearance.
He has already had a “LOLMets” moment when on August 7, a bizarre comebacker led to Hughes falling head-over-heels en route to a failed throw to first base. Ever the humorist, Hughes poked fun at himself on Twitter after the game.
Hughes has never minded standing out on the baseball field. He has been known throughout his career for always sprinting in from the bullpen when he enters a game. Last year as a member of the Phillies, Hughes’ bullpen sprints led to this viral video that features a displeased J.T. Realmuto (who later swore that his “look of disapproval” was not directed at Hughes).
For anyone curious about the origin of Hughes’s sprints, he spoke about the habit in a 2018 feature with Runner’s World.
“I had a backup catcher say, ‘Hey, you just should sprint in and throw it as hard as you can because this might be your last outing ever. You might get released,’” Hughes said. “So I said, ‘All right, let’s do it, man.’ I started sprinting in and I started throwing 4 mph harder.”
He then added, “It was a crazy time in my life, where I thought that it might all be over. But the sprint kind of revived things for me.”
Whether the bullpen sprints actually have a physical effect on Hughes’s velocity, or whether the positive impact of his routine is all mental, it generally seems to work for him. He doesn’t throw all that hard, but his pitches are strategic and well-placed. His bread-and-butter is the sinker, which leads to a large percentage of ground balls in his appearances. While other relievers today thrive on blowing hitters away with 95+ MPH heat, Hughes is a little more crafty and gets results.
In a Mets bullpen that has been taxed early on in the 2020 season, thanks to only one game to date in which the starter has gone seven innings, Hughes has been a welcomed addition. He has pitched in several close games, holding the score in every one.
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Hughes has acquired a career reputation as a solid late-innings reliever, and so far he has lived up to that reputation in the orange and blue.