Glen Perkins wasn’t the only Twins pitcher with back problems last season. His buddy Phil Hughes struggled most of the season but a back injury during the second half knocked him out of action for a month.
For Hughes, it topped off a trying season in which he saw his fastball velocity dip to 90.7 miles per hour after sitting at 92.1 mph in 2014. The righthander’s changeup velocity (84.4) was about the same as recent seasons. That difference of 6.3 mph is not the desired variance, and it showed as Hughes’ strikeouts per nine innings dropped to 5.4 after being at 8.0 the year before.
Hughes had to leave an Aug. 9 start at Cleveland after three innings because of back pain, but he admitted during a conversation on Sunday that he wasn’t right all season. His velocity reflected that.
Was the back a problem all season? “It’s hard to say,” Hughes said. “I didn’t start feeling the back until a few starts before the Cleveland game. My velo wasn’t right either. There’s a lot of things that could have gone into it.”
Like Perkins, Hughes focused on getting his core strong during the offseason and has lost about 15 pounds.
“I’m feeling like I’m giving myself a chance this year,” he said. “Training as hard as I possibly could this offseason and coming in and seeing how it translates and going from there.”
No Opening Day nod yet
While some teams have already named their Opening Day starters, Twins manager Paul Molitor said Monday that he was “not close” to doing so.
Molitor and pitching coach Neil Allen have to talk about the subject then map out the rotation. They can always juggle things early in camp to line up the rotation to their liking.
Righthanders Hughes, Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson are the best candidates to get the ball on Opening Day. Hughes got the nod last season, his first Opening Day assignment ever, after Molitor announced it during the first day of camp.
“I don’t mind doing that when it’s a slam dunk, but I’m not sure we’re quite at that point yet,” Molitor said. “Neil and I have talked about it, obviously, because you kind of have a tendency to work back from where you’re going to go. You can shuffle with that a little bit early on, if something emerges.”
2015 stats: .311 average, no home runs, 38 RBI in 85 games at Class A Fort Myers.
Acquired: Drafted in the 22nd round out of Elon in 2013.
Role: Catcher, outfielder and first baseman at Class AA Chattanooga or Class A Fort Myers.
Did you know? Swim caught and played outfield in college. While at Cedar Rapids in 2014, there were so many catchers on the roster he ended playing outfield and first base. A career .307 hitter, he has yet to hit a home run as a professional.
La VELLE E. NEAL III