Phil Hughes faces an interesting challenge tonight as the Twins open a 10-game homestand, and it really has little to do with pitching against his former team. Hughes seemed “obviously a little amped up” to face the New York Yankees last season, manager Paul Molitor said, but “a year into his tenure with the Twins, I don’t think that will be the same.”
No, but the Yankees pose a real test to the way Hughes pitches — around the plate, always working ahead, but vulnerable to giving up home runs. New York ranks third in the majors in home runs this season, behind the Astros and Blue Jays, while Hughes leads MLB in hits allowed (141) and he leads the American League in home runs allowed (23).
Nevertheless, “I don’t think he’s going to change,” Molitor said. “He’s fairly confident in what he does. He obviously would prefer not to give them up, but when you’re aggressive the way he is, you throw the ball over the plate more than most people do [and] teams are going to be aggressive against you.”
Yet the matchup might not be as dangerous as it seems. The Yankees, you see, have hit a lot of home runs, but the great majority of them — 61.8 percent, to be exact, or nearly a 2-to-1 ratio — have come in the bandbox known as new Yankee Stadium. More homers have been hit in Yankee Stadium this year (129, or 36 more than in Target Field) than any other park. The Yankees rank second in the majors in home-field home runs, but they are 14th in hitting road home runs.
The Twins, by the way, have a similar home-field comfort level; their 32 home runs on the road rank 29th in the big leagues, but they are 10th in home-field homers with 47. That’s 59.5 percent hit at home.
But even more important, Molitor said, is how Hughes has been pitching lately. He has six quality starts in his last eight appearances, and a 3.13 ERA over that time. “The key is, as he’s been pitching well over his past four or five starts, he’s just locating, using his offside pitches enough to keep guys from totally teeing off on him,” the manager said. “He struggled a little bit early finding his rhythm, but as of late, he’s been pitching really well.”
He’d better. The Yankees have won eight of their last nine games in Target Field, and haven’t lost the season series to the Twins since 2001. And that’s regular-season games — most Minnesotans know by heart the Twins’ 2-12 record in the postseason against New York.
Hughes will be opposed by Yankees starter Michael Pineda, who has a 2.28 ERA in his last three starts.
Here’s tonight’s lineup: