Report: Twins sign Phil Hughes for $24 million over three years

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Phil Hughes will join Ricky Nolasco in a rebuilt Twins rotation, according to La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, agreeing to a three-year, $24 million contract on Saturday.

Hughes, the winter’s youngest free agent at age 27, is coming off a rough season in which he went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA in 29 starts and one relief appearance for the Yankees. Getting out of Yankee Stadium and it’s shallow right field porch should do him a whole lot of good, though it’s not like he’s been any sort of ace on the road, either.

The curious thing is that Hughes held out for the longer deal rather than going the Josh Johnson route and signing a one-year contract, with the chance of landing a much bigger payday next winter. Certainly, if he had bounced back and turned in a season more like his 2012, he could have been in a position to land the kind of four-year, $49 million deal that Nolasco just got or something bigger. Frankly, it suggests a lack of confidence that he’d rather have the much more modest three-year deal right now.

With Hughes and Nolasco in the fold, the Twins have clearly upgraded what was the league’s ugliest rotation last season. Kevin Correia will be back to occupy another spot, with Samuel Deduno a heavy favorite to join him. The team still has to decide whether to bring in another veteran or to let Kyle Gibson, Vance Worley, Andrew Albers and Scott Diamond compete for the fifth spot.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.