DETROIT — Phil Hughes and Jordan Zimmermann sparkled in their season debuts following injury-marred 2016 campaigns.
The veteran right-handers will try to build off those performances when the Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers complete a three-game series at Comerica Park on Thursday afternoon.
Hughes (1-0) held the Chicago White Sox to one run on five hits in six innings, carrying Minnesota to a 3-1 victory on Friday. He didn’t walk a batter and held the White Sox scoreless after the first inning.
“I was kind of reeling a little bit but I was able to settle down and make some pitches,” he said on Wednesday. “Felt pretty good after not being out there for nine months or whatever it was. It was pretty encouraging but it’s one of a lot.”
Hughes appeared in just 12 games for the Twins (5-3) last season and finished 1-7 with a 5.95 ERA. He sustained a broken left leg when struck by a line drive in June, then underwent season-ending surgery the following month for an unrelated issue. He had his first rib removed to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome.
Hughes recovered by the time the season ended and was able to go through his normal offseason routine. The results started to show in the latter stages of spring training.
“He seemed to get more confidence in his pitches as he got near the end of camp and found a way to get deep into the game in his first outing, which was a positive,” Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. “I think we’ll see a different guy with the fact that he’s throwing the changeup a lot more than he used to and he’s still got the curveball and cutter to go with it.”
The Tigers (6-2), who won the first two games of the series, have seen plenty of Hughes over the years. He has pitched against them 20 times, including 18 starts, and is 8-9 with a 4.43 ERA.
Zimmermann (1-0) was nearly flawless last April, when he was named the American League’s Pitcher of the Month, but his season soon nosedived. He initially sustained a groin injury, then battled a neck issue. He pitched just 9 2/3 innings after June 30.
In his first start this season on Saturday, Zimmermann held the Boston Red Sox to one run on four hits over six innings.
“With all the stuff that happened last year and all the stuff I did this offseason, I was happy to get off to a good start and feel good all spring,” he said. “So far, I’m feeling great, so hopefully that continues.”
Zimmermann, who is 3-0 with a 3.43 ERA in three career starts against the Twins, mainly relied on his fastball and changeup against Boston.
“The breaking pitches were the only thing I couldn’t get a feel for,” he said. “Cold weather might have had something to do with it. I’m expecting both breaking pitches (slider, curveball) to be there (Thursday) and hopefully, the changeup is as good as it was the first start.”
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