Minnesota Twins manager Paul Molitor told reporters yesterday that Phil Hughes has been “penciled in” as the team’s Opening Day starter this year, but Hughes seemed more excited to talk about last year’s Opening Day starter Ricky Nolasco rather than his role at the top of Minnesota’s rotation.
Hughes was quietly one of the best pitchers in the American League in 2014, finishing fourth league wide in wins and top ten in strikeouts, innings pitched and WHIP. He also had an 11.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which is now a Major League single season record.
Nolasco on the other hand really struggled in his first season as a Twin after he was named the Opening Day starter a year ago. The 32-year old right hander went 6-12 with a 5.38 ERA and he failed to win 10 games for the first time since 2007, when he only appeared in five games. Nolasco wound up on the disabled list in early July with an elbow strain when he informed the team that he had been pitching through elbow discomfort all season.
One positive that can be taken from Nolasco’s forgettable 2014 campaign was how it ended. He posted a 2.93 ERA over five starts in September which included an outing against the Tigers where he held Detroit scoreless over eight innings. The start before that, Nolasco allowed only one run over seven innings against Cleveland. Unfortunately, he did not get credit for the win in either outing and had a record of just 1-2 during the final month of the season.
The good vibes about Nolasco’s positive start in camp should be great news to fans in the Twin Cities. Minnesota posted a league worst 5.06 ERA from starting pitchers last season but things could be very different in 2015 should Nolasco have a bounce back season. The team also added veteran free agent Ervin Santana to the rotation this winter to help boost the unit.
Along with Hughes, Nolasco and Santana in the starting rotation is 27-year old Kyle Gibson, who went 13-12 in his first full Major League season last year. The Twins will sort out the battle for the fifth starter in Spring Training. Mike Pelfrey, Tommy Milone, Alex Meyer and Trevor May are the names in the mix to win that spot.