Phil Hughes: Escape From New York

Phil Hughes Signing

MINNEAPOLIS — Former Yankee Phil Hughes escaped his first jam as a Minnesota Twin without throwing a pitch.

Thursday night at the Diamond Awards, the club’s annual awards banquet at Target Field, Hughes and fellow free agent acquisition Ricky Nolasco took the stage for a newcomers Q & A segment. Dick Bremer, the longtime Twins TV voice and a product of small-town Minnesota, prodded Hughes for his thoughts about leaving the caldron of New York City for the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

That can be a loaded question in the wrong hands, especially with a table of Twitter-savvy baseball writers ready to tap out the answer. In the audience, Twins manager Ron Gardenhire — knowing the Yankees essentially told Hughes to get lost after a 4-14 season — leaned forward, eager to hear how Hughes would handle it.

After a moment’s pause, Hughes said:  “It was nice to get out of town. A change is nice sometimes. I think at certain points of your career, you’re ready for that.” He added: “Everybody here has been nice to me. It’ll take a little getting used to.” People laughed at that, and Hughes relaxed.

Gardenhire, the former Mets utility infielder, smiled when asked about it at a Twins kickoff luncheon the next day.

“I’ve been there,” he said. “I played in that town. It’s touchy. You know it will all get back to New York. I thought he did fine. He kept it light. That’s the best way to handle it.”

Target Field, where balls to the alleys go to die, seems a much better fit for the fly-ball-tossing Hughes than Yankee Stadium. Last year Hughes allowed 17 of his 24 home runs in the Bronx over 78 1/3 innings, contributing to an abysmal 1-10 home record with a 6.32 ERA.

Though homers are up at Target Field since it first opened in 2010, it still yielded the second-fewest per game in the American League last season (1.75), according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker. Hughes figures that benefits his style. “I’m a fastball guy,” he said. “Sometimes it misses the bat, and sometimes it gets hit a long way.”

Former Mets pitcher Mike Pelfrey thinks Hughes will embrace his new home. Pelfrey, a Kansan, enjoyed pitching for the Twins so much last season he signed a two-year, $11 million deal to stay. He heard a few boos as he struggled in his first season back from Tommy John surgery (5-13, 5.19), but nowhere near the volume or venom of his final full season at Citi Field.

“I haven’t met him yet, but I’m sure it’s a change he’s going to love,” Pelfrey said. “He won’t be cussed out in the first inning the first time he gives up a run. It’s a lot more about baseball here than dealing with all the other stuff.”

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Pat Borzi, a former Yankees and Mets beat writer for the (NewarkN.J.) Star-Ledger, has covered major league baseball since 1988. His work appears frequently in The New York Times.

18 thoughts on “Phil Hughes: Escape From New York

  1. Hughes didn’t need to escape from New York. He just needed to make sure the door didn’t hit him in the ass on the way out.

  2. I don’t remember a lot of cussing if he gave up a run in the first inning…I do remember a lot of boos when he was taken out in the top of the second, trailing 6 to 2…bad combination of home park and pitcher style? We’ll see…

  3. Lived in NYC for 4 years…some of the friendliest, nicest people I’ve ever known. No BS, straight-up. Haters should try it for a while, might surprise them.

  4. That said, when I lived on 88th and 1st Ave, the bar across the street was “Phil Hughes.” No connection to the pitcher, but it WAS one of the saddest places I’ve ever been, and I can’t help but think of it every time Hughes starts a game…

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  10. Glad he is out of the Bronx. He was simply terrible. Long term I see him more in a setup roll out of the bullpen if he can learn to be aggressive with hitters

  11. Lots of short memories here. He had a terrible 2013, no doubt, and was up and down in 2011. But he was a pretty solid starter in 2010 and 2012 and was outstanding out of the pen in 2009. The guy’s career was more up than down in NY and was consistently a stand-up guy, didn’t make excuses when he didn’t perform well.

  12. I think he will do well with the Twins. So people just can not handle the pressure with playing in a Big market