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Phil Hughes returns tonight

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Hughes' return opens up a few options for the Twins.

Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

Phil Hughes' visit to the disabled list was well timed, if such a thing exists as a convenient injury. It granted Tyler Duffey his opportunity to debut, and in his last six starts the Twins are 5-1 as he's posted a 2.45 ERA with 36 strikeouts in 36.2 innings. He's been outstanding.

With Hughes' return, it's quite possible that he's presenting Minnesota with yet another opportunity. There's potential for Mike Pelfrey to be shifted to the bullpen, since his spot in the rotation should have come up tonight. But another option would be for the Twins to turn to a six-man rotation down the stretch. Here's why it's the approach I prefer:

  • The Twins clearly want to limit Tyler Duffey's innings. His 176.2 innings in 2015 are an 18% increase over his 149.1 innings last year. A six-man rotation would mean Duffey would make three more starts this year instead of probably four.
  • By keeping Pelfrey as a part of the rotation, it would allow the Twins flexibility in setting their rotation up for a playoff run. Especially with an off day next Monday, Paul Molitor can move a player up a day or back a day.
  • It will make it easier for the Twins to line up Ervin Santana to start a possible Game 163. Santana isn't eligible for the post-season, but because his suspension was effective from Opening Day it means he could pitch in a Game 163.
  • Similarly, it will make it easier for the Twins to line up Phil Hughes or Kyle Gibson for the Wild Card play-in game. Gibson has been Minnesota's most consistent starting pitcher this year, and outside of Santana it's Hughes with the experience, contract, and assumed leadership that make him a likely second option.

Posturing the team for a possible game 163, or even the Wild Card game, might seem premature when the club is still in a spot where it has yet to overtake the Rangers (or the Astros, depending on how that series plays out), but at the same time it's not an issue that would disrupt the team. And with an extra starter to work with as well as an off day in the mix, why wouldn't Minnesota at least consider it?

Welcome back, Phil Hughes. Here's hoping your back is good enough and stable enough to get you through the rest of the season...and the playoffs.