SARASOTA, FLA. – Phil Hughes hasn’t struck out a batter in his two spring starts yet. He hasn’t had time.
Hughes shut out the Orioles in three over-in-a-flash innings Monday, and for the second start in a row, he undershot his 40-45 pitch limit by so much, he had to throw in the bullpen just to get his work in.
“If they want to swing at the second pitch of every at-bat and give me an out, I’ll gladly take it,” he said after his extra 15-pitch bullpen workout. “If I go the whole spring without striking anybody out, it might be a concern. But for now, to be able to throw a minimal amount of pitches, it’s a good thing.”
Funny thing is, Hughes is trying to extend at-bats, but his reputation proceeds him. The veteran righthander is known for throwing strikes and rarely walking anyone, so his project this spring is to get a little — well, less consistent.
“He’s working on changing eye levels a little bit,” manager Paul Molitor said of the major league record-holder for lowest walk rate. “He has a tendency, we all know, to throw too many strikes. If he can, especially when he’s ahead in the count, show them something [out of the zone], it’s a little different look instead of just pounding down there like he always does.”
That’s why Molitor liked that Hughes threw a few pitches up high in what ended up as a 3-0 Twins victory. “We saw a couple fastballs intentionally get up above the swing zone,” he said, with the intent of disrupting hitters’ comfort level.
Hughes thinks it worked, but it’s hard to tell, since none of the 10 batters he faced went deep into a count. “I threw some good changeups, threw some good curveballs. A couple cutters [were] left over the plate, but they didn’t hurt me too bad. I was able to move my fastball around,” he said. “It’s hard to assess too much from this outing when it goes so quick.”
Trevor May struck out the side in his first inning in relief of Hughes, retired all three hitters he faced in his second, but wore down, in Molitor’s view, in his last inning and had to be pulled with one out. That might be the remnant, Molitor said, of his work as a one-inning reliever since last July 1.
“That third inning, it showed that it was his first time getting extended that far, in terms of command,” Molitor said. “He probably got a little tired. We pushed him in the 47-48 [pitch] range. But still, it’s a nice building block.”
• Randy Rosario relieved May with two Orioles on base and one out, but he got out of the jam by inducing a fly out from Adam Jones, then striking out Chris Davis. “That was fun to watch. It’s really fun to see these kids get out there. He had a big smile on his face when he got to the mound,” Molitor said. “I told him when he came out, ‘You just got two guys out who are worth $300 million.’ ”
• Catcher Stuart Turner has a stiff lower back, Molitor said, and has been limited to hitting off a tee.
Two games, one day: Half of the Twins will travel to Dunedin to face the Blue Jays, with Tyler Duffey starting that game. In Fort Myers, Ricky Nolasco will make his first start of the spring as the Cardinals visit.