KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In effect, the Twins had a doubleheader today. Phil Hughes pitched three innings before an empty stadium this afternoon — not a shutout, either, because Kennys Vargas launched a home run — and Mike Pelfrey will perform for a packed Kauffman Stadium tonight.
The two events may be related, because Hughes looked relatively sharp in his first action, simulated though it was, since going on the disabled list with a bulging disc in his back. Hughes threw 45 pitches to a handful of Twins hitters, fielded a handful of bunts to test his flexibility, and threw 15 more in the bullpen.
“I was experiencing some symptoms all the way up to a couple of days ago. So to not feel anything now is certainly a step in the right direction,” Hughes said. “Now it’s just a matter of honing in on my command, making sure my stuff is good.”
So Pelfrey takes the mound against the Royals tonight with a decision about the rotation looming and his own resume a little problematic lately. His ERA is 10.22 over his last three starts, and he has finished six inning just once in his last six starts. It appears entirely possible that tonight might determine his role for the remainder of the season, though Twins manager Paul Molitor didn’t want to add to any pressure the veteran righthander might feel.
“He kind of understands where we are in the season, and how it’s been with him as of late,” Molitor said. “I don’t think it’s very prudent to tell somebody they’re pitching for a spot in the rotation.”
Molitor said the Twins want to wait until they see how Hughes feels Thursday before determining what the next step is for him, but waiting to see how Pelfrey does is surely part of the equation, too. So it should be an interesting night.
The Twins are without Miguel Sano again tonight, because Molitor decided that with an off day coming Thursday, he can give the rookie’s hamstring three straight days of rest in hopes there is significant improvement. Sano did take a few ground balls at third base before Hughes’ session, but only to move around a little. He’s not likely to play the field anytime soon.
Vargas will take Sano’s cleanup spot today, with Eduardo Nunez giving Trevor Plouffe a day off at third base.
Here are tonight’s lineups for the finale of this three-game series: