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Hughes, Jeter to get up close and personal

5/31/2014
Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

NEW YORK -- The last time Phil Hughes threw a pitch to Derek Jeter -- during a practice game before the 2008 World Baseball Classic -- he was given a set of rules beforehand.

"I was told to throw nothing but fastballs away, because we didn't want to hit him," Hughes said. "I don't think I have to do that this time."

"This time" will be on Sunday, when Hughes, who signed a three-year, $24 million contract with the Twins this winter, gets the start against the Yankees, his former team.

"I’m going to try to treat it like any other game," said Hughes, who seemed to enjoy his 10-minute conversation with the Yankees beat writers Friday, most of whom who had covered all of his seven seasons in the Bronx. "It might be a little more difficult but as of right now, my mindset is just treat it like any other game. And the preparation that I’ve taken into my last couple of starts has been pretty good. I’ll try to continue with that."

Hughes has been outstanding in his first two months with the Twins, posting a 5-1 record and 3.23 ERA in 10 starts. Most surprisingly, Hughes, who was victimized by the long ball throughout his Yankees career, has allowed just four home runs so far. By this time last season -- a nightmare in which he finished 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA -- he had already surrendered 11.

"There’s not a whole lot of difference in the way I'm pitching," he said. "I’m doing the same things I do: attack hitters, throw strikes, pound the zone. I think my stuff’s been pretty good. Been avoiding walks and getting fly balls, doing things I normally do. It’s just been working out.''

Pitching at Target Field, a much more pitcher-friendly park than Yankee Stadium, has certainly helped.

"I always pitched well there," he said. "That was something that certainly was a factor this offseasn when I was thinking about where I’d like to go. I always felt comfortable in that park so yeah, that was definitely on the list.''

Hughes admitted the decision to part ways with the Yankees this offseason was a mutual one. And that despite his favorable memories of the 2009 world title and his role in it ("my best moment in baseball," he called it), both sides realized his run in New York was over.

"It’s tough to live up to those expectations, I think," said Hughes, who was the Yankees' first-round pick in the 2004 amateur draft. "People talk about those kind of things and anything less [than greatness] is a failure, and that’s tough sometimes. So I think this was probably a good thing for me, just to go somewhere where I don’t have those things tied to me anymore and I can just be who I am and pitch."

Hughes went from the No. 5 starter on the Yankees' staff to the ace of the Twins. And on Sunday, he will get a chance to show his old team that they weren't wrong to draft him 10 years ago, or to cut him loose last winter.

"I think both parties just kinda felt it was the right thing to cut the cord at that point," he admitted. "But I've never really faced a former team before, so those are going to be some weird at-bats [on Sunday]."

Like most returning ex-Yankees, Hughes expects the reception from the Yankees crowd to be mixed, at best.

"That’s just the way it is here. They’re tough," he said. "That’s what makes playing here so great. They’re passionate and they love this team and they love this city. It’s tough when you leave somewhere on such a negative note, and that’s kind of how you're going to be remembered by most, and that’s unfortunate. But I feel very fondly about my time here. I have a lot of great feelings towards this city, towards the fans. It's going to be fun."