Twins notes: Hughes' control keeps baffling hitters

It sounds so simple, the way Phil Hughes explains it.

“I tried to stay hard inside and expand away when I can,” he said. “Just make sure to throw a lot of strikes and avoid the middle of the plate. That’s sometimes a fine line to walk, but I made some quality pitches.”

He left out execution, which can keep a pitcher from doing all of the above. Right now, Hughes is a strike-throwing machine with stuff that’s missing the fat part of bats. The result is a five-game run that’s allowed him to match his entire victory total from last season. He’s 4-0 with a 1.95 ERA over his past five starts. He was 4-14 last season with the Yankees.

In the Twins’ 4-3, 10-inning victory over Boston on Thursday, Hughes gave up one earned run over six innings on five hits, with no walks and eight strikeouts. He didn’t walk a single Red Sox hitter, and Boston entered the game third in the American League in walks. They still worked him pretty hard. Xander Bogaerts, for example, worked him for a 14-pitch at-bat in the fifth inning before flying out.

“I was drained after that,” Hughes said with a chuckle.

He should have gotten the victory, but the 3-1 lead he gave the bullpen went away in the ninth when closer Glen Perkins blew the save. Aaron Hicks picked the team up, however, with a walk-off single in the 10th.

For the second consecutive outing, Hughes threw only two curveballs — both to Jackie Bradley Jr. — all game. His fastball and cut fastball have been working just fine.

He’s been able to control the strike zone with two pitches, and he has faced a ridiculous stretch of 119 batters without walking anyone. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s the first time since Kevin Slowey from Aug. 29-Sept. 26, 2011, that a Twins pitcher has done that.

“Just throwing strikes,” he said. “Feeling comfortable with my mechanics and able to repeat my delivery and throw the ball over the plate.”

Tuneup for Willingham

Outfielder Josh Willingham departed for Class AAA Rochester on Thursday afternoon to begin his rehab assignment Friday. Willingham participated in his third consecutive batting practice session before Thursday’s game to clear the team’s final hurdle.

“Everything went well; he was hitting some bombs and looked good,” Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said.

Willingham has been sidelined because of a left wrist fracture and was placed on the disabled list April 12, retroactive to April 7. He’s missed 33 games because of the injury and the Twins don’t have a timetable for how long he’ll remain in Rochester. Antony said he’d like to not only see Willingham healthy during the assignment but also that he regains his timing and swing before the Twins activate the outfielder.

“If it was up to him, it’d probably be two or three days, but I don’t think that’s realistic,” Antony said. “He’ll need a little more time.”

Softball at All-Star time

The first group of participants for the 2014 All-Star Legends & Celebrity Softball game was announced on Thursday, and it included some familiar Twin Cities athletes.

Among those that will participant in the game on July 13 at Target Field are former Twins Jack Morris and Jim Thome, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, Wolves forward Kevin Love and Lynx forward Maya Moore. Minnesota residents and TV personalities Andrew Zimmern, James Denton and Jon Hamm, who is in the hit show Mad Men and the baseball film “Million Dollar Arm” will also partake in the event.

Other participants will be announced at a later date.

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