Updated: April 12th, 2011 7:27pm
Notebook: Former Royal Dusty Hughes flattered by new teammates' praise

Notebook: Former Royal Dusty Hughes flattered by new teammates' praise

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- It's not exactly Manny Ramirez returning to Fenway, but Minnesota Twins left-hander Dusty Hughes reunites with his old team, the Kansas City Royals, this week.

While kicking the tires on potential left-handed relievers this offseason, Twins brass asked various left-handed hitters -- Joe Mauer, Denard Span, etc. -- what they thought about Hughes, who has pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings since giving up three runs to Toronto in the season opener.

It's a small sample size, but Mauer was 1-for-7 in his career against Hughes. Span was 2-for-6 with two strikeouts, Jason Kubel was 1-for-6 with a strikeout, Justin Morneau 0-for-4 and Jim Thome 0-for-2.

"That's unbelievable to me," said Hughes, who knew nothing about his new teammates' swaying opinions until after spring training. "Just the whole repertoire of left-handed hitters here, starting with Span all the way down to Kubel, it's pretty flattering to know that if they asked any of those guys, for them to say that 'he can pitch for us,' or whatever. It's a confidence builder for me, that they think I'm good enough to pitch here."

Hughes -- who shined in spring training, pitching 12 scoreless innings while allowing only 13 baserunners -- posted a 3.83 ERA with 34 strikeouts, 24 walks and three home runs allowed in 56 1/3 innings for the Royals last season. He was originally drafted by Kansas City in 2003 and spent the majority of his first six seasons as a starter in the system.

With a slew of young players on the rise, and a few new offseason major-league additions -- particularly left-handed starter Jeff Francis -- the Royals placed Hughes on waivers this past offseason and the Twins wasted little time picking him up.

"When they signed Jeff Francis, they said 'We need your roster spot,'" Hughes said.

"I think what it was is, if you look at their roster, they've got a lot of young guys. For me, I still don't consider myself old. I'm 28 years old. They've got a lot of guys who are 22, 23, 24 years old, so in a way I was kind of the odd man out. If you look at their minor league system, they've got a lot of young left-handed guys coming. I was hoping to be that guy to bridge the gap for at least another year."

Despite the fact that Kansas City sits higher in the standings after nine games than the Twins, Hughes likely wound up in a better situation.

"I didn't really think anything about, 'oh, I'm a shoe-in for the big-league team' or anything," Hughes said about his mindset during spring training. "I just got put on waivers by another team. What are the chances I go from last place team getting on waivers to first place team, making the team?"

Duensing a potential horse?

After giving up a three-run bomb to Mark Teixeira prior to recording any outs in New York last week, Tuesday's starter Brian Duensing settled down to pitch seven solid innings.

"He settled in and started using all of his pitches, and locating the ball," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He started spinning that slow curve, and you start changing speeds, and you're throwing strikes, normally it works out pretty good for you. And that's what he did. Sort of flipping some slow curves in there to get them off the fastball, and was able to move the ball in and out, and that's kind of the way he has to pitch."

With some question marks lingering in the bullpen, the Twins would like to see more of those seven-inning performances from Duensing, and other starters.

Carl Pavano led the staff in 2010 by lasting at least seven innings in 21 of his 32 starts. Duensing went seven-plus innings in only four of his 13 starts last year, but with his pace, pitching style and repertoire, the left-hander might be a guy who can consistently pitch deeper into ballgames.

"I think so," Gardenhire said. "He's got good enough stuff, a good enough mix that can do a lot of different things. And he can make adjustments out there, as you saw."

Nishioka and Slowey will not travel

Second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka (broken fibula) and right-hander Kevin Slowey (shoulder bursitis) will not travel when the Twins leave town for Tampa Bay on Thursday. Both men will stay in Minneapolis to continue rehab.

Nishioka was limping around the field, playing catch without crutches or a wheelchair, which is a positive sign. But as Gardenhire put it, "It's going to be a while" before Nishioka is anywhere near being ready to return.

"Pool work is a really good thing, and we have that," Gardenhire said. "Bicycles, pool work, but no weight-bearing, as far as activities -- jumping on it or anything like that. Walking, light walking, all those things, pool work is great."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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