WASHINGTON – Phil Hughes is headed to the disabled list to open the season because of a strained oblique on his left side, Twins manager Paul Molitor said Tuesday. Hughes’ absence means lefthander Gabriel Moya and righthander Tyler Kinley have claimed bullpen spots, at least for now.
Hughes, who hasn’t appeared in a regular-season game since last July 14, remained in Fort Myers, but his scheduled minor league start Tuesday was canceled so he can get treatment on his oblique, which became sore shortly after his start last Thursday. The Twins had planned for Hughes to serve as the fifth starter during Ervin Santana’s absence, and they won’t need one until April 11. It’s possible the veteran righthander can return by then, Molitor said.
“You’d have to think it’s still in the mix, at least to try,” the manager said. “We can’t force it if he’s not ready. But we’ll see when he is able to pitch in a game again.”
Moya made the team, despite never having pitched in Class AAA, off a strong spring in which he allowed only one run in 11 innings. Kinley is similarly inexperienced at the highest levels but displayed a fastball near 100 miles per hour in camp. As a Rule 5 pick, the Twins have to keep Kinley on their roster all season or offer him back to the Marlins.
Pitches and pancakes
Trevor Hildenberger had blueberry pancakes and two-year-old memories for breakfast. The pancakes weren’t as good as he remembered them. The ballgame was better.
For the second time in three years, the Twins stopped at Nationals Park on their way to the season opener in Baltimore, and for the second time, Hildenberger came along. In 2016, he was a little-known sidearmer who couldn’t get over the fact that he was here, snapping photos and enjoying the atmosphere from start to finish. This time, he’s an established member, more or less, of the Twins bullpen.
“I’ll never forget that trip,” Hildenberger said. “It was valuable to get the experience out of it, so when you get called up to make your debut, it’s not so foreign. I remember having a lot of nerves and a lot of adrenaline.”
He ate breakfast Tuesday at the same Pentagon City restaurant as two years ago, when he enjoyed “the best blueberry pancakes of my life. It wasn’t the same this time. But I was on cloud nine back then, so maybe that was part of it.”
His favorite memory? Facing Bryce Harper, his first big-league hitter. “At the time he was the reigning NL MVP. I warmed up, and then threw a first-pitch fastball and he hit it 1000 miles an hour to left center for a double off the wall,” Hildenberger recalled. “ ‘Ohh-kay. So this is what the big leagues are like.’ But I got Ryan Zimmerman to ground out, so it worked out.”
The Twins brought rookies such as Nick Gordon, LaMonte Wade, Tyler Jay and D.J. Baxendale along this time, and Hildenberger expects them to eat up the experience as well. “I went back to Fort Myers — and I just felt so accomplished,” he said. “It was a confidence boost, for sure.”
• The Twins’ move to reclaim Kennys Vargas from Cincinnati last week paid off. The slugging first baseman cleared waivers and was assigned outright to Class AAA Rochester, allowing the Twins to recall him later this year as needed.
• Lance Lynn threw in the bullpen Monday, and will start a minor league game Wednesday, before rejoining the Twins for the opener. His Twins debut is Monday in Pittsburgh.
• The Twins cut a number of minor league players, including infielder Levi Michael, their first-round pick in 2011.
• The Twins will work out at Camden Yards on Wednesday afternoon. Temperatures are expected to reach the high 60s for Opening Day, though rain is in the forecast, too.