Hughes reported to camp Sunday and has already thrown two bullpen sessions. Sitting in the Hammond Stadium clubhouse Friday, words like rebirth, recovery and rebound were thrown his way. He feels any of them could apply as the once-heralded prospect embarks on a new season with a new team, trying to distance himself from the 4-14 blowup of a year ago.
He can throw a fastball 95 miles per hour, but sometimes it’s too straight and he leaves it up in the strike zone. He likes his curveball and will spend spring training trying to perfect a No. 3 pitch, whether it’s a changeup, slider, cutter or something else.
“That’s the whole idea, to bounce back as well as I can,” Hughes said. “Last year was a disaster and not the way I wanted things to go. I feel like this is a fresh start for me, an opportunity to come in and help a staff that has struggled at times. I think the organization is going in the right route. I’m excited about that.”
Hughes was 1-10 at Yankee Stadium in 2013, giving up 17 home runs in 16 starts. He was 3-4 on the road, giving up seven homers in 13 starts. So, yes, he scouted ballparks as he looked at teams to join. Target Field yielded 1.75 homers per game, the second-fewest in the American League.
It will take more than a change of venue for Hughes to pitch up to the lofty expectations once placed on him. The three-year, $24 million deal the Twins offered obviously had a lot to do with his decision, but he also asked around about Anderson and is excited about working with him. The two chatted for a while Wednesday after one of his bullpen sessions.
“I got reports on him and I talked to him after he threw in the bullpen,” Anderson said. “His makeup is through the roof. Great guy.”
Together, Hughes and Nolasco give the Twins something they haven’t had in recent years — pitchers who can strike out batters. The Twins staff struck out 6.11 batters per nine innings last season, 5.90 in 2012 and 5.95 in 2011 — the worst in baseball each season. Hughes has averaged 7.6 strikeouts per nine innings in his career; Nolasco has averaged 7.4.
No more running out five pitch-to-contact guys for the Twins.
Battle for No. 5
The Twins have four spots in the rotation nailed down — Nolasco, Hughes, Correia and Pelfrey. Pelfrey was re-signed to a two-year, $11 million deal after going 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA in his comeback year following Tommy John surgery in 2012. The Twins wanted to try to reap the benefits, after Pelfrey endured that recovery year, rather than watch him go elsewhere and possibly thrive.
“We don’t want to be a rehab system for someone else,” Antony said.
The Twins would have looked harder at signing Bronson Arroyo if they hadn’t brought Pelfrey back. Either way, they have created a massive competition for the fifth starter’s spot between Scott Diamond. Samuel Deduno, Vance Worley and Kyle Gibson. Prospects Alex Meyer and Trevor May will be in camp as well. It will be one of the more interesting battles in camp, with Diamond, Worley and Deduno all out of minor league options.
That’s the way the Twins wanted it — to upgrade the rotation and not hand out jobs like scholarships. They will get to see how their offseason moves look beginning Monday, when pitchers and catchers take the field for the first time this spring.
“That’s the confidence you are looking for,” Antony said. “That’s the stability you are looking for. We have not had an ace of the staff since we had Johan Santana, but we were still effective and won the division because we had five starters who gave us a chance. And that is what we are trying to do here.”