It’s been eight years since Phil Hughes was primarily a relief pitcher. He owns a World Series ring to remind him of that season.

The Twins wouldn’t mind if returning the righthander to the bullpen has a similar side effect. But right now, they’re more concerned about getting Hughes back on the mound and in games. He hasn’t pitched since May 21, when the weakness in his pitching shoulder that bothered him last year returned.

“At least for now, we’re going to try him out there and get him accustomed to getting up during a game,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “As far as the long term, how we’re going to get him stretched out, that’s a question for” the future.

Hughes’ velocity has dipped 2-3 miles per hour since joining the Twins a couple of seasons ago, a problem the Twins hoped was related to thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS), which Hughes had surgery to address last summer. Some symptoms, such as tingling in his fingers when he pitches for an extended time, have returned. The solution, the team now hopes, is to use Hughes in shorter stints, before the symptoms affect him.

“He feels really good in shorter stints. We’re not totally sure how longer outings will [go], in terms of symptomatically having to deal with some things that put him on the DL in the first place,” Molitor said. Hughes pitched a pair of simulated innings of 15 pitches each Monday, and the results were so encouraging that Hughes has been dispatched to Class AAA Rochester to try out his old/new role. He’ll pitch in relief Wednesday, and if it goes well, probably again Saturday and Sunday.

“I don’t know if [the TOS] is totally behind him, but I knew he feels really good about throwing like he did [Monday],” Molitor said. “He knows that’s what he needs to do to try to get him back on the 25-man [roster].”

Hughes, who turns 31 on Saturday, was sensational in the Yankees bullpen in 2009, posting a 1.40 ERA in 51⅓ innings, many of them setting up closer Mariano Rivera. He’s under contract with the Twins for two more seasons after this one — might he spend them all as a reliever?

“It will be an open-ended discussion about what we feel is right,” Molitor said, adding that he’s not sure whether the Twins can find a way to get his arm stretched out enough to start again this year. “We’ll be open-minded about bringing him back when we feel he’s ready to serve a role.”

Santiago’s test drive

Before Hughes takes the mound in Rochester to try to win a new role, Hector Santiago will pitch for the Red Wings in an attempt to reclaim an old one. Santiago will start against Buffalo, his first time facing hitters since going on the disabled list June 7 because of a shoulder strain.

Santiago will throw four innings or roughly 60 pitches, and the Twins could activate him in time to start next week in Boston. Or not, Molitor said.

“We’re getting a little bit muddied right here, on how people are fitting,” Molitor said, suggesting Santiago might also get some bullpen time in the short term. “He could come back in probably a long [relief] role or a starter’s role, depending on how things go.”

In the meantime, Nik Turley will get his third start with the Twins on Thursday against Chicago. This weekend’s rotation in Cleveland, Molitor said, will be Adalberto Mejia, who turned 24 Tuesday, in the first game, then Kyle Gibson and Ervin Santana.

Sano stretches lead

Miguel Sano’s lead for the starting job at third base in next month’s All-Star Game has grown to more than 400,000 votes, a 35 percent increase in his lead over the past week, Major League Baseball announced Tuesday.

Sano, who has led for the past three weeks, has 1,302,090 votes, with Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez trailing at 891,731.