KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Phil Hughes will pitch a simulated game Wednesday afternoon. Mike Pelfrey will pitch a real one that night.
Their roles might reverse next week.
Hughes will arrive at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday and begin working in ernest toward a return to the mound after back problems that struck during his Aug. 9 start at Cleveland forced him to the disabled list. And though it’s too early to tell when Hughes’ arm might be stretched out enough to reclaim his spot in the Twins rotation — a question complicated by the lack of rehab options now that minor league regular seasons ended Monday — Twins manager Paul Molitor hinted that when he does, it won’t be for Tyler Duffey, his replacement during the injury.
“You can just look where we’re at and try to evaluate all the starters in the rotation,” Molitor said, “and see where you might have a better option if Hughes is able to pitch.”
There’s little mystery about who Molitor was talking about, though he didn’t mention Pelfrey by name. But the veteran righthander has pitched effectively only occasionally the past two months, and he’s 1-7 since June 7. Over Pelfrey’s past six starts, he has posted a 6.35 ERA while completing six innings only once; he’s failed to get through five innings four times in that span and nine times all season.
Molitor said Pelfrey will make his next start against the Royals on Wednesday, but beyond that, the Twins rotation may be in flux.
After missing a month, Hughes might have required two or more rehab starts if it was earlier in the season. But with only four weeks to play?
“Sometimes you might take a little more risk than you would if it was April and May,” Molitor said, “and try to find a way to get him ready to pitch.”
Hughes threw 45 pitches in the bullpen at Target Field on Sunday and will throw roughly that many to Twins volunteers Wednesday afternoon. It’s possible he could be sent to Class AA Chattanooga if the Lookouts extend the Southern League playoffs long enough, but it’s also possible, Molitor said, that they might simply try to get him ready with bullpen sessions.
Sano’s recent struggles
Miguel Sano’s streak of six consecutive strikeouts, and nine in his past 10 at-bats entering Monday, forced Molitor to reach a conclusion about his lineup. “I wish I wouldn’t have played him yesterday,” the Twins manager deadpanned.
But unlike his habit with other rookies who go through a sudden slump, Molitor chose not to bench Sano for a game or two to allow him to regroup.
“Every once in a while, you’re reminded he’s still learning. He’s only been here a couple hundred at-bats. When a guy has a good day against him, he’s going to get exposed a little bit,” Molitor said.
“I think generally just kind of got a little overexcited about doing too much [in Houston]. I hope he backs it down a little and remembers the walks are a good thing, [to] be patient and get good pitches, and hopefully we’ll get him back on track.”
• Molitor didn’t give catcher Kurt Suzuki his somewhat customary Sunday off in Houston. Look for Suzuki’s workload to increase as the finish to the season grows closer.
“It’s a little bit of go time,” Molitor said. “His play has improved a little bit as of late, offensively. The fact he’s durable enough to catch fairly regularly, I’m kind of going with experience as much as I can.”
• Closer Glen Perkins’ back spasms have subsided, but he’s still not able to do any baseball activities. Molitor said it’s unlikely Perkins will rejoin the team on the road this week.