Jared Hughes: His locker a must-stop for media

CINCINNATI — Jared Hughes thought he had a claim to fame, something worthy of a small plaque in a corner of the Cooperstown museum.

Ever since 2012, when a team plays a doubleheader, it is permitted to call up an extra pitcher/player from the minors, the 26th man on a 25-man roster.

As soon as the doubleheader is over, the team returns to a 25-man roster and that pitcher or player is sent back to the minors.

The subject came up Saturday morning when the Reds called up Kevin Shackelford as the 26th man and he dresses next to Hughes in the Cincinnati Reds cxlubhouse.

Hughes proudly told writers, “I was the first 26th man to get into a game in 2012 when I was with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The first ever. My claim to fame. Pretty cool. I hope some day there is a plaque in Cooperstown. It’s a great rule, it’s cool, because you will need an extra pitcher in a doubleheader.”

Hughes said his information came from the web-site Deadspin. Just to make certain, though, he went to Google and did some research. And his claim to fame evaporated.

Turns out that the first 26th man to pitch in a game was Jeremy Hefner of the New York Mets on April 23 in the first game of a doubleheader against the San Francisco Giants. It was his major league debut and he was sent back to the minors the next day.

When Hughes discovered this piece of history, he quickly apologized to a couple of writers and said, “I’m a fake news machine, so be careful.”

Hughes, though, was the first for the Pittsburgh Pirates and, yes, after he appeared he was sent back to Class AAA Indianapolis the next day.

But he didn’t even take a deep breath before he said, “Well, then, my claim to fame is that I played on the same college team with Evan Longoria and Troy Tulowitzki at Long Beach State. I just threw my sinkers and they fielded the ground balls and that’s how I got drafted.”

That’s why a daily stop at Hughes’ locker is a must. There is no more likeable, affable and personable player in baseball that the 6-foot-7 relief pitcher. A smile is perma-pressed on his face and everything is genuine about him.

And he is not too bad on the mound, either. He is teaming up with David Hernandez as one of the best one-two bullpen punches in the National League. Heading into Saturday’s doubleheader, Hughes and his slinky sinker had retired 23 of the last 26 batters he faced. He hasn’t allowed a run over his last five appearances, covering 8 2/3 innings — one-third of an inning shy of a full game shutout.

When the Reds were in Los Angeles last week, manager Jim Riggleman displayed the utmost confidence in Hughes when he brought him into a game to face Yasiel Puig with one out and runners on second and first. The Reds led, 5-3, and Hughes was making his 400th major league appearance.

Why was it brave on Riggleman’s part? At the time Puig was 4 for 4 with two home runs for his career against Hughes. And on the first pitch, Puig banged a bullet. Third baseman Eugenio Suarez snagged it and ripped a quick throw to second for a double play.

One pitch, two outs, inning over. Reds win.

“I’ve done that many times, one pitch and two outs to end an inning,” said Hughes. “But that may have been the first that was a line drive instead of a ground ball.”

While talking about the 2012 season, it was brought up to Hughes that the five starting pitchers that year made every start, nobody missed a turn. The only time one of them didn’t make a start was for a doubleheader when the Reds had to use the 26th man theme and call up pitcher Mark Redmond to start one of the games. Other than that, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Mat Latos and Mike Leake made every start.

“For one season?” Hughes said with an incredulous inflection. “That is an incredible stat. I wonder when that last happened. This popped up on the scoreboard last night. There was a pitcher for the Reds who walked 13 guys in 10 innings.”

He was referring to Bud Podbelian, who pitched for the Reds in the 1950s and Hughes said, “We were talking about that in the bullpen. How many pitches did he throw? It had to be 170.”

Hughes paused for effect and said, “And here I am going out there throwing 15 pitches and saying, ‘Oh, man.’ Maybe I should stop icing my arm until I throw at least 20 pitches.”

Hughes, always looking for the interesting angle, looked down Relief Pitchers Row — most of the relief pitchers locker side-by-side-by-side — and spotted Austin Brice, who pitched late Friday night.

“I know he probably won’t, but if Brice finds a way to pitch in both games today he will have pitched in three games in 24 hours,” he said. “That would be cool, a neat thing to be able to say.”

And that’s the kind of stuff that comes from Hughes every day. For the media, his locker is like a movie star’s house on a Hollywood tour.

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