Twins pitching staff healthy, hopeful at spring training

Phil Hughes was limited to just 25 starts last season, but he and the rest of the Minnesota Twins pitching staff are healthy heading into 2016.

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Minnesota Twins already have something to be thankful for at spring training: The pitching staff is relatively healthy.

Minnesota had several pitchers see their seasons short-circuited by injuries last season. Right-hander Phil Hughes was limited to 25 starts, going 11-9 with a 4.40 ERA. Closer Glen Perkins recorded 32 saves in 60 appearances, but 28 of those saves came in the first half when he posted a 1.21 ERA. Hampered by a back injury, his ERA ballooned to 7.32 in the second half of the season.

Left-hander Ervin Santana did not make his first appearance until July 5 after an 80-game suspension following a positive test for a banned substance.

This year? With the exception of left-handed prospect Mason Melotakis, who is still recovering from Tommy John surgery in October 2014, all the Twins' pitchers enter the spring healthy. And Hughes is coming in some 15 to 18 pounds lighter after a rigorous offseason conditioning program to improve his flexibility. He knows it's important for him to get off to a good start.

"It's huge. Our team was very competitive last year. I wasn't a key to that," he said after pitchers and catchers held their first official workouts of the season. "I think we got off to an awful start last year (1-7) and still were able to be there at the end. So I think the start's going to be very important for us."

After Hughes posted some of the best numbers of his career in 2014 -- when he threw 209 2/3 innings, the only Twins pitcher to reach the 200-innings mark since 2011 -- the Twins are eager for more of that.

"He's obviously put the work in -- he comes in, he looks really fit," manager Paul Molitor said. "I think he's highly motivated and he's prideful enough to try to rebound and have a better year and be a better contributor. I don't know if we can expect 230 innings or whatever it is, but I expect him to take the ball most of the year and like Ervin, he's a veteran guy that he's experienced a lot of things in this game, and one of the guys we're going to lean on to get us to where we want to go."

In 17 starts last season, Santana went 7-5 with a 4.00 ERA.

"I'm sure it was a challenging year for him to have to miss the time that he did, given the circumstances," Molitor said. "My expectation is that he's going to have a healthy year and give us a lot of innings and give us a chance to win a lot of ballgames."

Molitor was not yet ready to name his opening day starter a year after giving the honor to Hughes early.

Along with right-handers Kyle Gibson and Tyler Duffey, and lefty Tommy Milone, the Twins have several others vying for rotation spots, including right-handers Alex Meyer, Ricky Nolasco and prospect Jose Berrios along with lefty Trevor May, who is likely headed for the bullpen.

The Twins went 83-79 last season, finishing second in the American League Central and staying in the hunt for a wild-card spot until the final weekend.

"We're going to have a good division," general manager Terry Ryan said. "Detroit did some things. Cleveland's got the pitching. Kansas City's the reigning World Series champ. The White Sox feel good about what they're doing. Nobody talks about us. I know that. That's OK."