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Off to superb start, Hughes set to face former team

Righty spent seven seasons in New York before signing with Twins in offseason

NEW YORK -- Phil Hughes made his return to Yankee Stadium on Friday as a member of the Twins for the first time since joining Minnesota on a three-year, $24 million deal in the offseason.

Hughes, who has been the Twins' best starter this season, is set to pitch against his former club on Sunday, but he addressed the media before Friday's game. Hughes admitted it was strange returning to Yankee Stadium as a visitor and that he wished his final season in pinstripes would've went better, as he posted a 5.19 ERA in 29 starts and a relief appearance last year.

"I have a lot of great feelings toward this city, this team, the fans, so it's tough when you leave somewhere on such a negative note," Hughes said. "That's how you're going to be remembered by most, which is unfortunate. But I feel very fondly about my time here. I don't have any ill feelings towards anybody. That's just kind of the way things go. Leaving here on a bad note last year was tough. But what are you going to do? That's just the way it is."

Hughes, 27, has excelled since joining the Twins, leading the rotation with five wins and a 3.23 ERA. He's also posted a 1.56 ERA over his last six starts with 30 strikeouts and no walks in 40 1/3 innings. He last walked a batter on April 20, and has faced 175 hitters without issuing a free pass.

Hughes credited Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson for helping him with his mechanics in Spring Training, and said his approach on the mound is similar to when he was with the Yankees. Hughes did have his fair share of success in New York, as he was an All-Star in 2010 and won 16 games with a 4.19 ERA in '12 before struggling last year.

"It's not a whole lot of difference," said Hughes, who has been relying heavily on his fastball and cutter this year, while working in a few breaking balls. "I'm doing the same things I do -- attack hitters, throw strikes, pound the zone. My stuff's been pretty good -- avoiding walks and getting fly balls, doing things I normally do. It's just been working out."

Yankees manager Joe Girardi only had good things to say about Hughes, who posted a 4.53 ERA in seven years with the Yankees.

"He did some really good things for us," Girardi said. "He was pivotal in our bullpen for our [2009] championship run. Started, I think, the next year and won, I don't know, I think 18 games or something. He won 16 another year. He had some really good years here. He had a tough year last year, and that can happen to anyone."

Hughes said that he's going to try to treat Sunday's start like he would any other, but that it'll be weird to face former teammates he was close to such as Derek Jeter and Brett Gardner. And as for the reaction by Yankees fans, he's anticipating a Bronx cheer instead of an ovation when he takes the mound.

"Probably not very good," Hughes said with a laugh when asked about what kind of reception he expects. "But that's the way it is. They're tough. That's what makes playing here so great. They're the best fans. They're passionate. They love this team. They love this city."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, and follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger.
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