JUPITER, Fla. -- Phil Hughes took the mound wearing a Twins uniform on Tuesday afternoon, a big change for the right-hander, who spent his first seven Major League seasons in Yankees pinstripes. But that's not the only difference for Hughes this spring.
By throwing a solid 2 2/3 innings against the Marlins, Hughes surpassed his Grapefruit League workload from a year ago, when a back injury held him out of game action entirely. Although the impact of that situation is debatable, Hughes never clicked in 2013, going 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA before signing a three-year, $24 million deal with Minnesota this winter.
"Everyone says these are exhibitions, and you go through the motions and they don't really count and all that stuff," Hughes said. "But for pitchers, it's really important to get these repetitions, build that arm strength.
"I don't want to make any excuses for the season I had last year, but I didn't have a Spring Training, and it's definitely difficult. So to hopefully have a healthy spring and be able to build up my pitch count in a normal progression and get those game scenarios, I think it'll help a lot."
Pitching this spring gives Hughes an opportunity to work on his curveball, especially with two strikes, which was his priority on Tuesday. His use of the pitch had dropped from 21 percent to 8.6 percent over the past three years, according to brooksbaseball.net.
Hughes estimated that he threw about eight curves out of 44 total pitches. He deployed it to record at least two of his three strikeouts, including one to his final hitter, Christian Yelich. That one was his best of the day, the righty said.
Hughes finished his outing after giving up one run on two hits and one walk. He breezed through a perfect first inning, but ran into trouble in the second after issuing a free pass to leadoff man Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Two outs later, Greg Dobbs and Ed Lucas hit consecutive singles to bring home the run, and Hughes said he was having some trouble throwing from the stretch.
"It's tough sometimes in the [bullpen sessions]; you don't get those game situations with guys on base," the righty said. "Just finding a good rhythm, a good sink out of the stretch, was a little tough today. It showed with my command of the baseball when I had to work with runners on base. So that'll be the next thing to focus on, but other than that, out of the windup I felt my mechanics were solid, and the curveball was pretty good."
The next step for Hughes will be maintaining his fastball command, continuing his progress with his curve and picking up some velocity while increasing his pitch count. He hopes to throw four innings his next time out, which likely will be Saturday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin, Fla.
If all goes well, it will be another step in a normal spring for a pitcher who already has impressed his new club off the mound and is looking to do the same on it.
"He's come in and stepped right in and went about his business very professionally," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's very excited to be here, and no matter what we've thrown at him, he's said, 'That's fine with me. I'll go with whatever you guys want to do here.' He's not somebody we're too awful worried about. He's ready to go. He's excited to be here and he's going to be a big part of us turning this thing around."