Two of the most maligned former pinstripers in recent memory will be back in the Bronx this week as members of the Minnesota Twins, Eduardo Nunez and Phil Hughes. Hughes left as a free agent in the off-season after a disappointing 4-14 campaign for the Bombers in 2013. Nunez was designated for assignment and ultimately traded by the Yankees to the Twins at the end of spring training when Nunez lost his roster spot to rookie Yangervis Solarte. Both will be looking for revenge against their former team this week.
Hughes was a former first round draft pick of the Yankees in 2004 straight out of high school. He was considered one of the best prospects in the sport when he made his major league debut in 2007, and showed a great deal of promise. Injuries limited his performance in 2007 and 2008, but was a key component of the Yankees’ bullpen that helped the Yankees taste World Series victory in 2009. He returned to the starting rotation in 2010 and had some initial success, even making the All-Star team that season. The few years in New York were abysmal. Hughes had injury issues and ineffectiveness issues, ultimately culminating in a disaster of a season in 2013. However, he was young enough (28) to score a three-year $24 million deal with the Twins in the wake of that atrocity of a season.
Hughes has seemingly benefited greatly from the change in scenery. His record currently stands at 5-1 with the lowest ERA of his career as a starter (3.23). Hughes has gone on streaks like this before in his tenure with the Yankees, having a good month or two, tricking fans into thinking he will live up to the massive hype that surrounded the former first rounder, only to be disappointed the following month when he gives up homers like candy to trick-or-treaters on Halloween. However, the key stat that may show that Hughes has finally gained more command of his pitches, is his walk total this season. He has allowed only six free passes the entire year, good for the best walk per nine innings ratio in the league.
Eduardo Nunez was once a prospect that the Yankees’ brass thought so highly of, that they would not include him in a potential mid-summer deal for Cliff Lee. He was heir apparent to Derek Jeter at shortstop. He also could not field a ground ball cleanly to save his life. When not on the DL, he rode the shuttle between Scranton and New York before finally finding himself without a job at the end of spring training. He was traded to the Twins for a bucket of balls and reported to their Triple-A affiliate before coming up to the majors. He has played in 14 games with Minnesota this season, hitting .256 with a home run and five RBI. Seeing mostly playing time in the outfield, he has also made only one error so far.
While Nunez may play sparingly this series, if at all, Hughes is the scheduled starter for Sunday’s matinee game. He will undoubtedly be motivated to prove the Yankees made a mistake in giving up on him after last season’s debacle. He will also be pitching in Yankee Stadium, where he will have to excise his personal demons, which haunted him to the tune of a 6.32 ERA and 17 home runs in 2013. Here’s hoping for at least one more “Hughes Home Run Derby” on Sunday.