MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Twins were already thin on starting pitching. They didn’t need this to happen.
Twins starter Phil Hughes was hit in the leg by a comebacker to the mound Thursday off the bat of Chicago’s Adam Dunn. It caught Hughes in the shin and forced him to leave the game after facing just one batter in the top of the fourth inning. There were no broken bones, much to Hughes’ relief, even though it caught him square on the shin bone. As he crouched near the mound while being attended to by a trainer, it became clear Hughes’ night was done.
With right-hander Kyle Gibson’s start delayed by a stiff back, Minnesota’s rotation has been in flux lately. The latest injury could complicate things. In the short term, though, Hughes’ early exit was compounded by the Twins’ 5-2 loss to Hector Noesi and the White Sox.
"With the way the rotation’s looking right now, I feel a responsibility to get out there and not miss any time," Hughes said. "That’s what I’ll try to do."
It remains to be seen how long Hughes might be out, or whether he’ll even have to miss his next scheduled start. The Twins have an off day Monday, which would give Hughes an extra day to rest his leg.
When Dunn came to the plate in the fourth inning Thursday, Hughes and the Twins were already in a 1-0 hole. Adam Eaton sent a two-out double down the left field line, and Alexei Ramirez’s single up the middle scored Eaton one batter later. With Minnesota unable to do much against Noesi, the Twins needed Hughes to shut down the White Sox offense.
Thanks to Dunn’s smash up the middle, Hughes didn’t get that chance. Hughes finished the game with 64 pitches in three-plus innings, allowing four hits while striking out four. Dunn later came around to score when Minnesota reliever Samuel Deduno walked White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers with the bases loaded. The run was charged to Hughes, who picked up the loss on top of picking up a bruise on his shin.
"I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was some little crack or something in there," Hughes said. "When they said everything looked clean, that was a big relief for me. Obviously I would have liked to stay out there longer, but I’m thankful that I’ll at least be back out there sooner than later."
Hughes’ injury-shortened start comes just one day after right-hander Anthony Swarzak had to make a late spot start in place of Gibson, whose back didn’t loosen up in time for him to make his regularly scheduled start. Minnesota pushed Gibson back to Saturday, but that start now seems unlikely. If Gibson doesn’t pitch this weekend, the hope is that he’ll be ready to go by Tuesday.
With Swarzak unavailable out of the bullpen, that left only Deduno as a valid long-relief option. Without much time to warm up in the fourth inning, Deduno came in and allowed Chicago to score three times in the inning — with one of the runs charged to Hughes. Deduno eventually settled down a bit, giving up just an unearned run in the sixth (the result of his own throwing error).
After Deduno threw four innings in relief of Hughes, right-hander Ryan Pressly made his season debut by tossing two scoreless innings. Pressly was called up from Triple-A Rochester after Minnesota designated Matt Guerrier for assignment on Wednesday night.
"He was good. It was nice to see him back up here," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Pressly. "The ball was coming out of his hand real nice, with a nice little breaking ball. He went right at them."
Hughes said the pain he felt Thursday wasn’t quite as bad as when he tore his hamstring during his rookie year while pitching for the Yankees. Still, he walked gingerly through the Twins clubhouse after the game, with his right leg taped. He added that he anticipates the pain will be worse when he wakes up on Friday morning.
With Gibson’s next start possibly being pushed back again, and right-hander Ricky Nolasco currently on the disabled list, the Twins could use some good fortunate when it comes to healthy starting pitchers. They’ll be crossing their fingers that Hughes will be ready to take the mound again when his turn in the rotation rolls around next week.
"It’s way too early for that. We’ll have to come back tomorrow and see where he’s at," Gardenhire said. "I would think that he would be fine."