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Odd Man Rush: Hughes back on track in Minnesota

<p>When Minnesota Twins manager Terry Ryan introduced starter Phil Hughes as the newest member of the club back in early December, he called it a change-of-scenery situation.</p>

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - When Minnesota Twins manager Terry Ryan introduced starter Phil Hughes as the newest member of the club back in early December, he called it a change-of-scenery situation.

Six months later, Hughes and the Twins have to like the current view.

In Hughes, Minnesota perhaps saw a 27-year-old burned out by pitching in the bright spotlight of the Bronx. After all, certain expectations are levied when you are a former first-round pick of the storied New York Yankees.

Hughes initially proved his worth in New York as both a starter and a reliever and seemed destined for good things following an 18-win season in 2010 and another 16 victories two years later.

However, the righty slipped to a 4-14 mark last season and hit the free agency waters afterward. It was there that the Twins cast a three-year, $24 million lure, bringing Hughes to Minnesota and spacious Target Field.

For the Twins, the signing of Hughes was another step in reshaping their rotation with the goal of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2010. His introduction came two days after the Twins unveiled Ricky Nolasco and his four-year, $48 million contract, the richest free-agent signing in club history.

If Hughes was a gamble, it has paid off. He has posted a 7-2 record and 3.17 ERA through 13 starts, while Nolasco has gone just 4-5 with a 5.70 ERA in just as many outings.

Credit the Twins for not panicking after Hughes began his tenure with the club by going winless in his first three starts while giving up 12 runs over 15 innings.

He also served up a pair of homers in his season debut on April 3 in a road test against the Chicago White Sox, but has since proved he left his long ball issues in New York by giving up just five since.

Three of those came in a loss to Houston on June 6, but Hughes showed it a fluke by coming back five days later on Wednesday to shut out the homer-happy Toronto Blue Jays over seven frames in a 7-2 win. He did not walk a batter and struck out nine to get out of some jams.

"It was good," Hughes said. "I ran into trouble a couple times, but I was able to make some good pitches to get out of a couple tight spots with runners on base. (Toronto) is dangerous, especially (at home), so a two-run or three-run lead, at any moment that can get turned around very easily."

In addition to cutting down on the home runs allowed, Hughes has only walked eight batters this season over 82 1/3 innings with 72 strikeouts. He went six straight starts from April 26-May 27 without issuing a free pass, and his ERA sits at 2.27 over his last 10 outings.

"Super job again by him," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said after Wednesday's win. "(He was) changing speeds, moving the ball in and out like we've been seeing, (and he) used his breaking ball a lot better today."

Minnesota may currently be last in the AL Central and two games under .500 at 31-33, but the club is just four games out of first place and made another big addition by signing first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales to a pro- rated contract on Sunday.

In three games with Minnesota, Morales is 6-for-13 with three doubles and three RBI.

The Twins are by no means a finished product, but the situation is looking up in Minnesota.

The signing of Hughes as been a big part of that. Some would even say, well, huge.

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