Phil Hughes’ expectations for the 2017 season have steadily declined, from “mainstay of the rotation” during the spring, to “rest up and come back strong” in mid-May, to “just want to help any way I can” when he volunteered for the bullpen a few weeks ago.
But even that make-the-best-of-it scenario collapsed Tuesday.
Hughes’ season came to an abrupt end when he and the Twins decided that, since the symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome keep recurring, it makes more sense to address his condition now in hopes he’ll be completely healed by next spring. Hughes was placed on the 60-day disabled list to allow him to consult more doctors and explore more cures.
“I just wanted to help in any capacity I could. But it got to the point where it would be selfish of me to keep this going,” Hughes said. “I’m not really helping anybody.”
He tried, talking the Twins into activating him three weeks ago after almost a month of rest, and putting him in the bullpen. In five appearances since returning, however, Hughes has allowed five runs and 12 hits in 6⅔ innings, a 6.75 ERA that ultimately convinced both Hughes and the Twins to look for a fix, not a stopgap. That probably means more surgery — he had a rib removed near his shoulder last summer in hopes of restoring blood flow — though Hughes hopes to avoid it.
“That part we’re unsure about. I’ve had the recommendation from one doctor, that’s one avenue, but I’m going to see some other people and find out what the best path will be,” he said. “If surgery was [the route selected], it would involve taking out the remainder of the rib and some scar tissue.”
His pinkie and ring finger go numb while pitching, Hughes said, his hand swells up and his arm quickly fatigues — all symptoms he hoped would disappear after last summer’s surgery.
“It’s kind of scary when you start to lose feeling in your hand,” Hughes said. “It’s not really ideal for pitching, especially at this level.”
It wasn’t ideal for Twins manager Paul Molitor, either, since he never could be sure how much he could use Hughes, or for how long. Molitor and pitching coach Neil Allen met with Hughes, Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine on Monday, and ultimately decided to abandon their attempts to get something more out of the 31-year-old righthander this year.
“Our focus is to try to have a healthy Phil Hughes heading into camp next year,” Molitor said. “Get yourself healthy and have a normal winter getting yourself ready to pitch.”
Hughes, who earns $13.2 million this season and each of the next two, finishes his fourth Minnesota season with a 4-3 record and 5.87 ERA in only 53 ⅔ innings, his fewest since 2008. He doesn’t believe his continuing circulatory problems are career-threatening, mostly because, he said, “I try not to think that way. It’s been a rough go the last couple of years, but I try not to let my mind wander that way. I try to focus on what I can do now.”
Craig Breslow was activated from the disabled list, taking Kennys Vargas’ spot on the roster, and the lefthanded reliever said he hopes the three weeks he’s missed will be beneficial. His back spasms have disappeared, he said, and he’s developed a better understanding of how he can retire righthanded hitters.
“Guys were looking away for the most part, diving over the plate, so I worked on something I can get inside more reliably,” said Breslow, who made three rehab appearances for Class AAA Rochester. “I felt really sharp, so I’m eager to see what happens.”
The Twins returned Vargas to Rochester, because Molitor wants an eight-man bullpen for the time being.