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 (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger, has covered major league baseball since 1988. His work appears frequently in The New York Times.