FORT MYERS, FLA. – Righthander Phil Hughes got his work in on Tuesday, throwing 59 pitches over four innings on a back field at the CenturyLink Sports Complex while the rest of his teammates enjoyed a scheduled day off.
There was just one problem. Hughes plunked outfield prospect Travis Harrison in the back of the left hand with a pitch during his first inning of work. Harrison dropped to his knees and bent over for a couple of moments before coming out of the game.
Hughes walked to home plate to check on Harrison, who was selected as a third baseman with the 50th overall pick in 2011.
“I feel really bad,” Hughes said. “[Pitching coach] Neil [Allen] has been harping on us all spring to change eye levels and back guys off the plate. With [the count] 0-2, it was a situation where I thought it was a good idea to go up and in and I felt really bad about that because it got him square on the hand. I hope he’s all right.”
Brad Steil, the Twins director of minor leagues, said later on Tuesday that initial exams did not reveal a break.
Harrison was part of a team of minor leaguers gathered to give Hughes someone to throw to. Hughes struck out five and didn’t walk a batter. He gave up one hit, a single to Ryan Walker in the second inning, but Walker was thrown out trying to stretch the hit into a double.
Hughes used the game to work on his changeup, estimating that he threw 25 of them.
“The focus was to throw as many changeups as I could just so I can get a feel for it,” Hughes said. “It was a good opportunity to do it.”
Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and manager Paul Molitor were part of a group of officials who watched Hughes throw.
A change in strategy
After examining data and talking with his staff, Molitor is going to utilize a shallower outfield in certain situations this season. It’s another way to take advantage of hitters’ tendencies — like when a ball might fall in front of them instead of being hit over their heads.
This approach suggests that the Twins are concerned about the number of hits in front of the outfield than behind it last year.
With a projected outfield of Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton and Max Kepler — who range from good to elite speed — balls hit over their heads could still be chased down.
“A three-run lead in the fifth, I’m more worried about the bloop than I am the double,” Molitor said. “Try to keep baserunners off and protect leads. And get in position to throw people out when there’s big runs.
“There’s always a risk-reward factor, but we’re going to try to be a little more aggressive out there.”
The Twins have used spring training games to get their outfielders used to playing more shallow.
The Twins will face Team USA on Wednesday night at Hammond Stadium. Righthander Trevor May will make his third outing for the Twins.
La VELLE E. NEAL III