By the end of the week, the Twins could have all their key pitchers healthy.
On Tuesday, Phil Hughes is scheduled to make his first start since Aug. 10. As early as Friday, closer Glen Perkins could be back in the bullpen. And the Twins will be as strong as they can be as they weave their way through meaningful September baseball.
Hughes’ return couldn’t have come at a better time for the Twins. Some starters have been inconsistent, and rookie Tyler Duffey has thrown a career-high 171 innings between the minors and the majors. Hughes will be limited to around 75 pitches against Detroit, but his return from a strained back enables the Twins to skip or push back starters when needed.
“We believe with his experience and his track record he will be all right to go out there and compete, even not being able to pitch for five weeks,” manager Paul Molitor said.
It took much longer than anyone expected for Hughes to recover, and it led to some thoughts about missing the rest of the regular season. But Hughes said his back began to respond about a week ago, and now he’s eager to assist with the postseason push.
“The last week or so I felt great,” Hughes said. “So I’m pretty excited to be back in this thing. Especially where we are in the standings. It was probably a couple days before that simulated game in Kansas City. I threw a couple bullpens and felt good, and that was probably the time when I thought I would be back here to get at least three or four starts in. That was a big deal for me because I want to be back here for this team.”
Perkins, who has pitched in only three games since Aug. 17, threw a 31-pitch bullpen session Monday, raising the intensity level as he went along. Relievers don’t need simulated games like starters do to build endurance. But Perkins will go through long toss drills Tuesday, throw in the bullpen again Wednesday and follow that up with more long toss Thursday. After that, he wants in.
“On Wednesday, if I get through that I feel I can go out and pitch then by Friday — after a couple more days of long toss,” he said. “I’ll think I’m good.”
Perkins will be used in a setup role for a few outings before being eased back in as closer. Kevin Jepsen has more than made up for Perkins’ absence by going 7-for-7 with the Twins in save situations.
Despite not pitching since Sept. 1, Perkins said he believes he can contribute after a couple of bullpen sessions, provided there are no setbacks.
“I thought my stuff [Monday] was better than it was than the last game I pitched in,” Perkins said. “Everything was moving smoother.”
Torii Hunter has received a few messages from friends congratulating him for hitting his 350th career home run Sunday but is still waiting for one from the person he tied.
Former Twin Chili Davis also hit 350 home runs during his career. The two met during spring training to talk hitting, and began playfully arguing about Hunter’s chances of catching Davis, who is now the hitting coach for Boston.
“I told him I could get him,” Hunter said. “He said, ‘Nah man, it’s going to take you two years to hit 19.’ ”
Hunter has said he has felt the need to hit for more power with the Twins, and has taken aim at the fences more often. He hit 17 homers each of the past two seasons with the Tigers.
As he talked about it, Hunter decided that he was going to contact Davis and remind him that he had just been caught. “I’m texting him right after batting practice,” Hunter said.
Still in the fold
The Twins will keep Ricky Nolasco prepared in case they make a deep October run and need pitching options. Nolasco, out since June 1 because of a right ankle impingement, threw in the bullpen to build arm strength.