Twins Notebook: Australian Hughes gets the call for Twins in place of injured Nishioka
MINNEAPOLIS — Luke Hughes figured he'd be in the starting lineup on Friday, but he thought it would be for the Rochester Redbirds instead of the Minnesota Twins.
Hughes started the season at Triple-A Rochester, but never played a game there. He was in the opening day lineup on Thursday, but was scratched when it was learned Twins second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka had suffered a broken leg earlier in the day against the New York Yankees.
Instead Hughes caught a 6 a.m. Friday flight to Minneapolis and was in the Twins' starting lineup at second base for the home opener less than seven hours after arriving in the state.
"It was pretty crazy, especially because I got sent down (to the minors) just last week," Hughes said. "It was a great feeling."
Hughes was 0-for-3 at the plate, but had one of the team's hardest hit balls of the day when he lined out to left on the edge of the warning track for the second out of the eighth inning. The Twins, down 1-0, had a runner on first at the time.
The Twins went on to score two runs in the eighth to pull out a 2-1 victory against the Oakland Athletics. Joe Mauer had the game-winning RBI single.
"It's unbelievable," Hughes said. "Joe's a leader on the club and for him to come up with the big hit to win the game is great."
Hughes, a native of Perth, Australia, said his family and friends were watching the game back home, at 4 a.m. local time. He said his family has purchased the MLB television package to watch games.
"I've had a lot of support from family and friends," he said.
Hughes is expected to split time at second base with Matt Tolbert in Nishioka's absence. Hughes, a rookie, had seven at-bats a year ago. He hit a home run in his first big-league plate appearance last April 30.
"I'm happy to be here," he said.
NISHIOKA UPDATE: Nishioka had his broken left leg examined on Friday and it was determined he will not need surgery or a cast, but will have to remain on crutches. He will not return anytime soon, however.
"Four to six weeks, best case senario," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
There were 22 Japanese media members in the pressbox on Friday and about two-third were there to cover Nishioka. Many of those media members are expected to cover the Twins full-time because of Nishioka, a very popular player in Japan.
PAVANO BOUNCES BACK: Twins starting pitcher Carl Pavano had a rough outing in his first start, allowing seven earned runs in four innings. He started his second straight home opener at Target Field on Friday and held Oakland to one run over eight innings to collect the win.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself," Pavano said. "I want to go out there and win."
He struggled in the first inning Friday, allowing a walk, throwing a wild pitch and a throwing error as Oakland scored its lone run.
"I was a little annoyed at the beginning of the game, so I tried to settle down," Pavano said. "I wanted to go out and do my best, which I didn't do my first outing."
Pavano allowed just four hits while walking one and striking out one.
"We needed that," outfielder Denard Span said of Pavano's outing. "He's definitely our No. 1 (starter) on our team."
NATHAN'S AT HOME: Twins closer Joe Nathan missed all of the 2010 season with an arm injury. On Friday he played his first game at Target Field. Nathan pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his third save in three opportunities.
He had Tommy John surgery last year and is still not 100 percent. That injury often takes more than a year to recover from.
"At time point I'm a little ahead of pace (for full recovery)," he said. "Right now I'm shooting for the middle of May, June first to be at 100 percent."
Nathan was hitting 91 and 92 miles an hour on the radar gun during his scoreless inning Friday.
"We all enjoyed watching him get out there today," Gardenhire said. "He had good stuff."
"I'm excited to be where I'm at,"Nathan said.
MORNEAU'S MILESTONE: Twins first baseman Justin Morneau collected his 1,000th career hit with an infield single Friday. It moved him past Bob Allison into 13th-place on the Twins' all-time hit list.
Morneau was playing his first game at Target Field since the middle of last year. He missed the last three months of 2010 with a concussion.
BERT'S COUNTDOWN: A giant banner in left field, just below the Budweiser Deck, is counting down former Twins pitcher Bert Blyleven's enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The banner, "Bert's Countdown to Cooperstown" lists the number of days until he joins the Class of 2011. On Friday the count stood is at 50 days until he joins the Hall in mid July.
LOCAL TIES: Austin's Michael Wuertz, a relief pitcher for Oakland, is currently on the disabled list and did not make the trip with the A's to Minneapolis.
Outfielder Josh Willingham, in his first season with Oakland, played with the Austin Minny Stars of the Northwoods League back in 1999. The right-handed hitting Willingham was playing left field and batted four in the lineup for the A's on Friday.
The native of Florence, Ala., went 1-for-4 with a line drive single to center in the first inning. He struck out looking with one on and one out in the ninth inning against Nathan.
Willingham also had the best defensive play of the game. He made a diving catch down the line in left to rob Morneau with runners on first and second and two outs in the eighth inning, saving at least one run.