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Hughes role up in air after latest outing

Pitcher's performance may determine if he works out of bullpen to start season
Special to MLB.com

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Phil Hughes said he feels healthy, and is on track for the regular season. Where that track leads is still a bit of a question.

The veteran right-hander is one of a handful of starters that could fill the fifth starter role until Ervin Santana returns from finger surgery in late April. He could also move back to the bullpen where he finished out last season. No matter what role, he will likely need to have better results than he did on Saturday in a 13-5 loss to the host Pirates at LECOM Park in Bradenton. Hughes took the loss after allowing nine runs -- five earned -- on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings.

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Phil Hughes said he feels healthy, and is on track for the regular season. Where that track leads is still a bit of a question.

The veteran right-hander is one of a handful of starters that could fill the fifth starter role until Ervin Santana returns from finger surgery in late April. He could also move back to the bullpen where he finished out last season. No matter what role, he will likely need to have better results than he did on Saturday in a 13-5 loss to the host Pirates at LECOM Park in Bradenton. Hughes took the loss after allowing nine runs -- five earned -- on eight hits in 3 1/3 innings.

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"I felt a lot better, obviously, early in the game. But later on as it progressed, things kind of got a little out of hand," Hughes said. "It's just one of those things where I take the positives away as much as I can. Command-wise, it was not great. Especially as the game went along."

The Pirates got on the board early after Pittsburgh catcher Francisco Cervelli crushed an 0-1 fastball off of Hughes to left-center in the first.

"I tried to crowd him with a fastball in, and he was looking inside and down a little bit, and was able to drop the barrel on it," Hughes said.

Hughes ran into trouble again in the bottom of the third. Pittsburgh pitcher Chad Kuhl walked to start things off. The next batter, Adam Frazier, popped up deep down the left-field line. Monte Wade lost track of the towering fly as he was closing in. It bounced in fair territory and over the wall for a ground-rule double. Jose Osuna's line drive single to left cleared the bases.

Things didn't go much better in the fourth. A leadoff single by Sean Rodriguez put a man aboard for Jordan Luplow, who drove a Hughes offering over the fence in the deepest part of center field to make it 5-1. The Pirates still weren't done. A single by Todd Cunningham, and a sacrifice bunt attempt by Kuhl turned into a throwing error on catcher Mitch Garver. Frazier plated another run with a fielder's choice before Cervelli loaded the bases with a bloop single, ending Hughes' afternoon.

"It just got to be too many pitches," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "I was still trying to get him as close as I could [to his pitch count] for the work factor."

Spring Training info

Despite the bad outing, Hughes said that he feels healthy this spring, with no lingering effects from the myriad of injuries -- including thoracic outlet surgery, shoulder surgery and a shattered knee cap -- that have limited him to just 26 appearances over the last two seasons. He will remain on a starter's schedule over the final two weeks of the spring.

"I felt like I'd really turned a corner [after my last outing], command especially," Hughes said. "To take a step back today was a little disappointing, but the good thing is, I know it's there. It's just a matter of finding some consistency."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Defensive miscues
Errors and mental mistakes by the Twins' defense were again largely responsible for a second consecutive blowout. Over their last two games, opponents have scored 24 runs thanks to seven errors -- including four on Saturday. Along with Garver's throwing error, shortstop Jorge Polanco contributed to the Pirates nine-run second inning onslaught with a throwing error -- his seventh of the spring, and third in the last two days -- that allowed two more runs to score.

In that same inning, Garver also mistook a play at the plate as a forceout situation, and never applied the tag on a fielder's choice that allowed Cunningham to score. Third baseman Miguel Sano botched a ground ball in the fifth, and second baseman Travis Blankenhorn added an E-4 in the sixth.

Molitor wrote off the misplayed pop fly by Wade as a byproduct of the bright, cloudless sky. The others, he was less happy about.

"Everybody's dealing with it," he said of the sun. "The defense today was not good. We've been having a bit of trouble on the defensive side obviously. I know guys are working, they are practicing, but it's not transitioning real well right now in a couple areas. We'll keep working."

Roster battle
Robbie Grossman was one of the few bright spots for Minnesota on Saturday, after going 2-for-3 with a run driven in. The switch-hitting Grossman, who started last season as the team's designated hitter, is trying to earn a bench spot as an extra outfielder.

Video: MIN@PIT: Grossman hits an RBI single to right

Lynn stretching
The Twins' latest pitching addition, Lance Lynn, is scheduled throw on the team's Minor League side of camp on Sunday. The team is trying to get the veteran right-hander stretched out in time for the regular season after he signed late in the spring as a free agent.

Up next
The Twins will return home to southwest Florida on Sunday to host the Phillies at Hammond Stadium at 12:05 p.m. CT. Jake Odorizzi (2-0, 1.42 ERA) will get the start against Phillies ace Aaron Nola in what could be a final audition for the Twins' Opening Day starter honors. Relievers Addison Reed, Zach Duke and Ryan Pressly are also scheduled to throw on Sunday. The game will be broadcast live on MLB Network and on MLB.TV.

J. Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Twins on Saturday.

Minnesota Twins, Phil Hughes