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Healthy again, Hughes sharp in first action

Veteran righty throws 2 scoreless innings in first game since surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome
MLB.com @RhettBollinger

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Right-hander Phil Hughes looked sharp in his first outing since undergoing a second rib surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome in August, throwing two scoreless innings against the Cardinals in a 5-4 win on Monday at Hammond Stadium.

Hughes, who is competing for a spot in the rotation along with Anibal Sanchez and Adalberto Mejia, threw his fastball at 90-91 mph, which is an improvement from last season, when it averaged 89.7 mph. He allowed one hit and showed good command, throwing first-pitch strikes to all seven batters he faced.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Right-hander Phil Hughes looked sharp in his first outing since undergoing a second rib surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome in August, throwing two scoreless innings against the Cardinals in a 5-4 win on Monday at Hammond Stadium.

Hughes, who is competing for a spot in the rotation along with Anibal Sanchez and Adalberto Mejia, threw his fastball at 90-91 mph, which is an improvement from last season, when it averaged 89.7 mph. He allowed one hit and showed good command, throwing first-pitch strikes to all seven batters he faced.

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"I need to get closer to the 100-pitch mark to get a better idea, but for throwing two innings and 27 pitches, it felt good," Hughes said. "The first outing of spring, you don't have a lot of pitches to work with, but for me it was about commanding my fastball. I wanted to stay within my mechanics and feel like a pitcher again."

Hughes was pleased by his velocity, as it's been an issue for him in recent years, especially building it up during Spring Training. His fastball mostly sat at 88 mph last spring.

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"Honestly, I was pretty happy there was some velocity," Hughes said. "In springs past, I know it's been a topic. So to go out there and have a little life behind my fastball was encouraging. I hope there's still more, but to go out and at least have that was a step in the right direction."

A healthy Hughes would be a welcome addition to the rotation, as he's dealt with injuries each of the last three seasons, including back issues in 2015, a broken bone in his left leg on a comebacker in '16 and symptoms stemming from thoracic outlet syndrome in both '16 and '17. He had part of his first rib removed in July '16, only to have a second revision surgery last August.

The last time Hughes was healthy for a full season was 2014, when he posted a 3.52 ERA and set the Major League record for the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in a single season, handing out only 16 free passes in 32 starts. It was also the last season his fastball averaged above 90.7 mph.

Hughes, 31, remains under contract for $13.2 million in each of the next two seasons, which means the Twins will give him every opportunity to make the Opening Day roster. With Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi considered locks for the rotation and the Twins likely to open the year with four starters, Hughes is essentially competing with Sanchez and Mejia this spring. Sanchez has a non-guaranteed contract worth $2.5 million that pays him $500,000 if he doesn't make the team, while Mejia has Minor League options.

"I'm not worried about how many starters we have in camp, I just have to prove I'm healthy," Hughes said. "I just have to go out and put up numbers and pass the eye tests. There could be 15 starters here, but I just need to worry about myself."

Hughes has also been tinkering with his slider, a pitch he hasn't thrown much since 2013, his last season with the Yankees. Hughes has mostly relied on his cutter and curveball in Minnesota, while working in his changeup more last season.

"We're all hoping it's a healthy sail going forward," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "We've talked about his mix and what he's going to feature. He's bringing back that true slider instead of that cutter. He feels like he can use that changeup to be effective. He got some weak contact on some off-speed [pitches]. You can tell he was excited to be out there."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

Minnesota Twins, Phil Hughes