MINNEAPOLIS – Phil Hughes has had his bouts with injury in recent years. His latest pain combined with the Twins’ current circumstances could push him to the bullpen.
The longtime starting pitcher was shut down with injury last year and had surgery to relieve the symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome. He came to spring training this season with a clean bill of health, but still missing a few miles per hour on his fastball.
The Twins are looking for answers in their starting rotation after Ervin Santana and J.O. Berrios. They’re looking for even more answers in their run-down bullpen.
And according to Twins GM Thad Levine, Hughes is being considered as a relief option.
On Sunday’s edition of the Inside Twins radio show, Levine told host Cory Provus that Hector Santiago will go on a brief rehab stint, but since he hasn’t missed much time, he ought to still be stretched out to start.
“Phil’s been down a little bit longer. So I think we’re going to be a little bit more attentive to how we build him back up,” Levine said during Sunday’s ‘Inside Twins’ on Twins Radio Network. “There’s some conversations about: Is he better served to help our team in the short term as a multiple-inning reliever out of the bullpen? We could get him back a little bit quicker; based on how we’ve performed at the big league level, we sure could use him.
“There’s a question that we’re still discussing with Neil Allen and Eddie Guardado, with Phil himself as well as the doctors as to what’s the best path for him. Do we take the time to build him back up as a starter, and get him later in the season? Or do we want to try to get him back a little bit sooner, get another big league arm that Paul can use during the course of the game? So those are discussions that are still going on behind the scenes.”
Hughes has been on the 10-day disabled list since May 22, as the Twins try to figure out exactly what’s causing him pain. He recently reported feeling a tingling sensation in his fingers. It’s not clear if that’s a residual effect from the thoracic outlet syndrome, or if it’s another matter altogether. When he was placed on the DL, the Twins announced his injury as “biceps tendinitis,” which, once again, may or may not be related to the previous injury.
Hughes has made 9 starts this year and has a 5.74 ERA. His swinging strike rate is down this year, and it’s way down from his best year in a Twins’ uniform, 2014.
Levine said on Inside Twins that the consultations are ongoing with team athletic trainers and doctors as to the best role for Hughes when he’s ready to return to action. The Twins could give themselves an extra 40-man roster spot by transferring Hughes to the 60-day disabled list, but he’d have to miss another month if they took that path. Levine said that since they’re hopeful of getting him back sooner than that – perhaps as a reliever – his presence on the roster would be more valuable to the Twins than the luxury of an additional roster spot.
“There’s some conversation that shorter stints may serve him better moving forward than longer outings. … Those are ongoing discussions and we haven’t made a final decision on that,” Levine said.