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Twins RHP Phil Hughes excited to face former teammates, pitch again at Yankee Stadium

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NEW YORK, N.Y. - Phil Hughes predicts that when he faces Derek Jeter this weekend, it will be a little different than the last time he pitched to his former New York Yankees teammate.

"I was strictly told to throw fastballs away because they didn't want me to hit him," Hughes said Friday, recalling when he took the mound for the Yankees in an exhibition against Jeter's World Baseball Classic squad in 2008. "I don't think I have to do that this time."

This time comes Sunday, when Hughes is scheduled to start for the Twins in the series finale. He is excited to pitch at Yankee Stadium for the first time since signing a three-year, $24 million free-agent deal with Minnesota last winter.

Hughes wants to treat this outing like any of his other steady starts this season, one in which he's won five straight decisions, but he recognizes it might be a little different facing old friends. After all, he was drafted by the Yankees with the 23rd pick in 2004 and then played in pinstripes for seven seasons.

"There's going to be some weird at-bats," Hughes said.

A highly touted prospect with a lively fastball, Hughes arrived in the big leagues in 2007 at 20 with high expectations, even earning comparisons to Roger Clemens. But the laid-back California boy never quite met those standards.

"It's tough to live up to those expectations," Hughes said. "Anything less is failure."

After missing much of 2008 with an injury, Hughes spent nearly all of 2009 in the bullpen. And he became one of manager Joe Girardi's key relievers in the Yankees' run to their most recent World Series championship. A year later, Hughes was an All-Star starter, winning a career-high 18 games. He followed that with a mediocre 16-win season.

"He did some really good things for us," Girardi said. "This is a guy that took the ball, went out there and gave us everything he had."

But Hughes struggled mightily last year, his final season before free agency. He went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA and was often booed. A flyball pitcher, he gave up a lot of homers and the small right field dimensions in the newest Yankee Stadium seemed to affect him.

Still, Hughes thinks his mechanics are better than they've been in a long time and he is looking forward to pitching in the Bronx again.

Even though he is off to an exceptional start at 5-1 with a 3.23 ERA — he hasn't issued a walk in 175 batters — Hughes expects to get a rude reception Sunday. But he doesn't blame the fans.

"It's tough when you leave somewhere on such a negative note," Hughes said.

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