FORT MYERS, FLA. - Luke Hughes doesn't mind two-for-ones. Especially if they involve doctors who will get him back on the field.
The Australian-born infielder has been working his way up the Twins prospect ladder since being signed as a free agent in 2002. He's in camp this year with a good chance to have an impact in 2011, but it comes after a season marred by injuries and two surgeries in one day.
The one highlight: Hughes was called up to the majors April 24 and debuted four days later. His first at-bat? An opposite-field homer off Max Scherzer in Detroit. He was the fifth Twins player to homer in his first big league at-bat.
He played in two more games before being sent back to Rochester -- and his season went downhill from there.
"It definitely was a roller coaster," said Hughes, 26. "Probably the highest of highs and the lowest of lows playing baseball over here."
Hughes was at Class AAA Rochester in May when he began having problems with his groin muscle. The tightness wouldn't go away.
"I thought I just pulled my groin to start off with," Hughes said. "Then I had symptoms for a hernia."
Doctors took a while to determine that Hughes had a sports hernia, a tear to the oblique abdominal muscles. Once they did, Hughes was on his way to the Twin Cities for surgery in June.
Once Hughes arrived, he learned he was in for a long day. In addition to the sports hernia, Hughes needed to have adductor release surgery to loosen up the tight muscle.
So one doctor performed the hernia surgery. With Hughes still knocked out on the operating table, a second doctor came in and made a tiny incision in his adductor muscle, helping it release.
Hughes said he was so sore flying back to Fort Myers following surgery that strangers had to help him with his luggage.
"It was rough for a couple weeks there," Hughes said. "I wasn't moving too far; I was on crutches. I got back to 75 percent, and it took a long time to get over that final hurdle."
He wanted to play winter ball in Venezuela but missed the first half while still recovering. He ended up playing two weeks in an Australian winter league for a team in his hometown of Perth before getting 15 games in with the Tigres in the Venezuelan League.
After being nagged by groin muscle injures in recent seasons, Hughes hopes he is finally heathy. He never has played more than 99 games in a minor league season because of injuries and national team commitments. He played in only 24 games between the Twins and Rochester last season.
"If he had been healthy he would have been in the big leagues [longer] last year," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He probably would have spent considerable time in the big leagues."
Hughes is a .270 career hitter in the minors, but since he hit .319 with 15 homers in 70 games for Class AA New Britain in 2008 the Twins have felt he could hit in the majors. Gardenhire, who leads that charge, said he thinks Hughes can turn on a fastball pretty well.
That's what happened Wednesday in Bradenton when Hughes homered off of Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan. The wind was blowing in from center, but Hughes hit it well enough to get over the left field wall. He is batting .385 with two homers and five RBI in five games.
If everyone stays healthy, Hughes likely will open the season at Rochester. He can play second and third and will get some work in at first base. If there's an injury during camp, Hughes could make a case to go north with the club.
"If he can stay healthy he can be a force," Gardenhire said. "He's got some pretty good tools. He can play third, he can play second, he can probably play first.
"I think he can go in the outfield, too. He's got enough bat that he can play every day. He's got a lot of upside, as far as I am concerned."