First bullpen goes off without a hitch for Hughes

First bullpen goes off without a hitch for Hughes

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Despite coming off surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome in July, Twins right-hander Phil Hughes followed his normal offseason routine and on Wednesday threw his first official bullpen without any issues during the first day of pitcher and catcher workouts.

Hughes, who had a rib removed to relieve pressure on his right shoulder, said he completed his throwing program on the last day of the regular season, which allowed him to prepare for this year like he would any other. He threw off a mound for the first time in December, and he said Wednesday was the fifth or sixth bullpen he has completed since.

"I want to prove I still have it and have a productive season," Hughes said. "It's nice to start out even with everybody in Spring Training and not be set back to start later."

Hughes hopes to return to the way he looked in 2014, when he recorded a 3.52 ERA and walked just 16 batters in 209 2/3 innings. He has posted a combined 4.83 ERA over his last 214 1/3 frames, but he tried to pitch through the injury last year before ultimately undergoing surgery.

The 30-year-old is excited to be healthy in 2017, as he said the rehab process for the surgery isn't as grueling as surgeries where the elbow or shoulder are operated on.

"Nothing has really changed in my arm, except my rib is gone," Hughes said. "So I don't see things being very different from that. From everything I've heard, it's supposed to be a pretty smooth process to come back from."

Hughes said the biggest test will be once he pitches in Spring Training games because of the intensity. But he felt good throwing to new addition Jason Castro on Wednesday, and Castro liked what he saw from Hughes and fellow right-hander Kyle Gibson.

"Both he and Gibby looked great for the day," Castro said. "It was definitely encouraging."

If Hughes can prove he's fully healthy this spring, he's essentially a lock for the rotation. Twins starters combined to post the worst ERA (5.39) in the Majors last year, so an effective Hughes would give Minnesota a huge boost.

"That potentially is a huge piece," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "You would like to think that if he's healthy, he's going to be motivated to be a guy to help us kind of change direction here a little bit."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for since 2011. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.