Friday, April 8, 2011

Tsuyoshi Nishioka Breaks Leg, Luke Hughes Up

The Twins would've left New York disappointed enough by today's loss to the Yankees, another heartbreaking one run loss in a city where they seem to occur every game for the Twins. But news afterward that freshly minted Twin and Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka had fractured his fibula during a take out slide at second base will have a more lasting impact.

The injury occured on as the Twins were attempting to turn an inning ending 6-4-3 double play. Nick Swisher, who was on first for the Yankees, came in hard to break up the play and Nishioka inexplicably did little to avoid the oncoming freight train. Swisher's slide came in hard on Nishioka's exposed front leg and the Twins second baseman immediately crumpled to the ground having short hopped the throw in obvious pain.

There was nothing malicious or dirty about Swisher's play and the fault really lies almost solely on Nishioka who for some reason didn't think to attempt to leap the slide. I've heard some people say that adjusting to the aggressiveness of the take out slides in the states is one of the more difficult things for Japanese infielders to learn, as it's something that doesn't happen on the other side of the Pacific. I'm not certain if that's true or not, but Nishioka hadn't looked particularly comfortable making the pivot all season.

If there is a silver lining to all of this (there isn't really) it would be that Nishioka hadn't exactly been providing much on his own. He was hitting just .208 at the time of the injury, had struck out in eight of his 24 at-bats, and had committed two errors while botching a couple double plays.

It certainly hasn't been an ideal start to his Major League career.

Estimates are that recovery from the injury should take 5-7 weeks and indeed the fact that the Twins haven't placed him on the 6-day DL, but instead the 15-day DL suggests that they're hopeful he wont miss multiple months. Although that doesn't prevent the team from later moving him to the 60-DL should it be necessary to clear a roster spot. Once he's done recovering however there will still be at least some physical therapy to be done along with a rehab stint, so it's certainly possible the Twins could be without his services for more than two months.

In his place the team has decided to call up Luke Hughes who narrowly lost a battle with Matt Tolbert to be the Twins backup infielder. Hughes bashed six homeruns during spring training and posted an even 1.000 OPS during a brief stint with the team last year that included a homerun and three strikeouts in seven at-bats.

A product of the Twins extensive scouting and signing in Australia, the 26 year old Hughes is the first such product to make his presence felt in the Majors. Over eight Minor League seasons he's compiled a .270/.332/.420 line with a 21.5% K rate and a 7.6% walk rate. His best season came in 2008 when he posted a BABIP aided .853 OPS between AA and AAA.

Frequently passed over by the team as a subpar defender, I actually like Hughes' defense a bit more than the team does. While I think he may be somewhat less than average, I don't believe it's by nearly the magnitude that some others might. He moves well to his left and has solid footwork to his backhand to go with an average arm. His greatest weakness is that he isn't blessed with ideal hands and he will boot quite a few more balls than normal - certainly more than the Twins would like to see. Still, he's not some sort of lead footed abomination.

The team will likely choose to go with the light hitting Matt Tolbert at second in the meantime with Hughes working in a supporting role. It's s decision that I wouldn't make, but that the defense conscious Twins will always make. If nothing else, Hughes should be able to provide the Twins with some nice right handed thump off the bench late in games.

Corey Ettinger is a Senior Writer for Baseball Digest as well as a proud contributor to both,, and He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus. Be sure to follow me on Twitter @Coreyettinger for the latest updates, random thoughts and general tomfoolery.


  1. I believe that the 7-day DL is only for concussions.

  2. "6-day DL" should've been 60-day. Gotta love typos.

  3. Another good read Corey. Im going to go out on a limb here and say that when the dust settles Hughes will be the Twins starting 2nd baseman and Nishioka will move over to SS. Call it a hunch.

    Get well Nishioka.

    ps. I loved the standing ovation Minnesota gave Nishioka during the home opener. Very classy, and I bet all of Japan loved it.