There isn’t much Phil Hughes hasn’t experienced in his baseball career. Before joining the Twins last year, the 29-year-old spent seven eventful seasons in the Bronx with the Yankees. While wearing pinstripes, Hughes was an 18-game winner, an All Star and a world champion. He also endured several injuries, a 4-14 season and the ravenous New York media. After surviving that, he can handle anything the Twin Cities throw at him.
Fittingly, after an 0-4 start this season, Hughes dug in and has worked his way back to 6-6 and lowered his ERA from 5.11 to 4.20. His ratio of 60 strikeouts to just 9 walks points toward continued success.
At 6-5, 250, with a menacing scowl and mid 90s fastball, Hughes possess an intimidating presence on the mound, but as an interview subject, he’s friendly and thoughtful. The 9-year veteran and I chatted earlier this week.
DZ: We are about halfway through the season now…could you just talk about how it’s gone for you so far?
HUGHES: It hasn’t gone the way I would have liked ideally, that’s the way it is. I have to continue to focus on what’s in front of me. Obviously, the team has been playing well, it’s good to be a part of that. Hopefully, after this last start I had, will point me in the right direction.
DZ: You mentioned the team is winning this year, how much more fun is it to come into work?
HUGHES: That’s kind of the cliché – it’s always fun when you are winning – and it’s certainly true. Hopefully, we can keep that going – it’s makes for a more positive environment here.
DZ: This being your second year here with two different managers…You kind of have a fresh perspective; what’s different, what’s the same?
HUGHES: The day-to-day doesn’t change too much. There are little changes here and there which is kind of the way things work, but you still get here and have to play nine innings. I like the things that we have done as far as shaking up the line-up when it needs to. We’ve got an influx of young guys which is nice. As a whole, you don’t notice too much of a difference from different managers or different pitching coaches other than just some tweaks in the line-up or maybe getting guys going in different situations, managing bullpens, things like that.
DZ: You got a contract extension (in the off-season); how do you balance the security…and stay hungry and not rest on your laurels?
HUGHES: It’s pretty simple. You are never satisfied just because you are locked up somewhere. Anytime you go out there and are not performing well, it eats at you regardless of what your situation is. So, there is that motivation to always stay at the top of my game. With the team doing well, there’s extra motivation to really step up and give us quality starts every time going out and do a good job for this club.
DZ: What’s it like having the young guys in the rotation? What’s your role with them being a veteran?
HUGHES: We have a couple of young guys, but they if they ever need anything or approach me about anything, that’s kind of on their own accord. We just try to keep each other going, keep each other motivated, try to pass the baton after every good start. That’s what winning streaks are made of, starters doing their job. You have a pretty good chance of winning some ball games.
DZ: One last thing, I noticed on your Twitter page, you are big (Tampa Bay) Lightning fan; how did you get into them – know players on the team?
HUGHES: Yeah, I knew a couple of the guys just from my years with the Yankees having spring training in Tampa. I lived really close to the arena. I was fan from then (on). They had a nice year this year. Obviously, it didn’t end the way they would have liked (lost to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Finals), but they have a lot of positive things to look forward to in the future.