– The lure of a pennant race and some well-placed cortisone shots are helping to heal the sore backs of the Twins’ Opening Day starter and All-Star closer.

Phil Hughes threw 45 pitches Wednesday with no lingering effects from the bulging disk that has kept him out for a month, while Glen Perkins received a shot in his back and felt so good afterward, he plans to be working out again by the weekend.

“He said, ‘I know they hit the right spot because I feel the relief afterwards,’ ” assistant general manager Rob Antony said after speaking with the closer, who is back in Minneapolis. “He won’t be able to do anything [Thursday], until the cortisone settles in, but he’s hoping to get going here quickly. Hopefully throwing by this weekend.”

Hughes could be in a game by then, though that’s unlikely. But the Twins aren’t certain yet what their next step is for the righthander, who faced a simulated-game lineup of a few of his teammates, throwing three innings with five-minute breaks in between. He allowed a home run to Kennys Vargas — “so I got that out of the way,” Hughes joked — but his velocity, movement and stamina were good.

“I was encouraged by the fact that he looked free and easy, [and] wasn’t inhibited or restricted by the injury that he’s recovering from,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “He had a nice mix of pitches — four-seamer, cutter, curveball, changeup — and used them all. I think his stuff is fine, that was pretty much answered.”

Hughes was relieved, too, since he said he still felt soreness in his lower back as recently as last weekend. “So not feeling anything now is certainly a step in the right direction,” said Hughes, who hasn’t pitched since a loss in Cleveland on Aug. 9. “Now it’s a matter of honing in on command, building some arm strength and pitch count. That’s why I went down to the pen afterward, to get the total up to 60 so if they decide that a game is the next thing for me, I can at least have a decent pitch count instead of taxing the bullpen.”

It’s possible, Molitor said, that Hughes could pitch in a minor league playoff game for Cedar Rapids or Chattanooga, but that’s still being decided.

Double plays near mark

Trevor Plouffe was out of the lineup one day after recording his 25th and 26th double-play grounders of the season, a major league-leading number that brings him within two of the Twins’ franchise record. (Harmon Killebrew had 28 in 1970, while Kirby Puckett hit into 27 in 1991.) But Molitor said he’s not concerned about the statistics; double plays happen to players who hit hard grounders, he said.

“If you’re a double-play guy, you don’t ever really conquer it,” Molitor said, pointing out that his 21 double-play grounders led the Twins in 1996. “They can come in bunches.”


• When Perkins returns from his back injury, he probably will require two or more outings before he returns to the closer’s role, Molitor said, since he’s pitched only three innings since Aug. 17. Kevin Jepsen is 6-for-6 in save opportunities with Perkins out, entering Wednesday.

“Kevin’s done his job, and he deserves that opportunity here, at least until we see what happens,” Molitor said.

• Wander Javier, the 16-year-old Dominican shortstop who received a franchise-record $4 million bonus from the Twins in July, was granted a U.S. visa Wednesday and officially became a member of the Twins’ organization. The Twins will pay a “luxury tax” of roughly $37,000 for exceeding their $3.948 million bonus pool to sign Javier, who has been working out at the Twins’ Dominican complex and likely will debut next year in the Dominican Summer League.