Twins pitcher Phil Hughes may not have the fondest memories of his time with the Yankees, but he can certainly take consolation in his last outing against his former team.
Last month, Hughes limited the Bronx Bombers to two runs on three hits over eight strong innings in a win at Yankee Stadium. The right-hander will look to repeat that performance when he starts against the Yankees on Thursday -- the first of a four-game set at Target Field -- but emphasized that the first win did not provide him any added satisfaction.
"I don't think it means more than any other start," said Hughes, who went 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA with New York last season. "This game can be pretty cruel sometimes, and I went through that last year, so I never take any wins for granted. I'm being honest. I won four games last year. I know how precious these are."
Hughes (8-4, 3.58 ERA) has been rock solid for a Twins rotation that has largely struggled in 2014. But even he has hit a rough patch recently, giving up a combined 10 runs in 12 2/3 innings over his last two starts.
Hughes will need to be at his best if he wants to outduel right-hander Masahiro Tanaka, who has been nothing short of astounding in his debut season with the Yankees.
Through 16 starts, Tanaka is tied with Seattle's Felix Hernandez for the American League in ERA (2.10), tied with Rick Porcello for the Major League lead in wins (11) and has recorded a quality start in all of his outings --- the longest such active streak in baseball. The Yankees are 12-4 when Tanaka starts versus 29-37 behind any other pitcher this season.
"I feel that I've been doing it a number of times now, going into games on every fifth day," Tanaka said. "Obviously, I'm getting used to it."
Two of those four losses with Tanaka on the mound, however, happened to have come in his last two starts. When was the last time that's happened?
"Maybe about four years ago," Tanaka said.
Of course, the decisions were no fault of Tanaka, who held the Orioles and Red Sox, respectively, to five runs over 16 innings across both starts. Rather, the culprit was a scuffling Yankees lineup that has averaged 3.1 runs over its last nine games.
But even with an up-and-down offense, Tanaka's not stressing. Having already pitched an eight-inning shutout against the Twins earlier this season, he'd have little reason to be worried.
"Absolutely no pressure on me," Tanaka said.
The Twins took two of their first three against the Yankees this year, outscoring them 14-6 in the Bronx on May 30-June 1. The Yankees enter Thursday in the midst of a five-game losing streak -- their worst since June 26-30, 2013 -- while the Twins are 2-7 in their last nine.
Twins: Nunez faces old club
Like Hughes, infielder Eduardo Nunez will get another crack at some of his former teammates on Thursday. He won't approach the game any differently, he says, but he's still grateful for his days in pinstripes.
"I'm thankful for the opportunity they gave me," said Nunez, who hit .267 across parts of four seasons with the Yankees. "But we're playing to win no matter what. I hope they keep putting me in the lineup."
Nunez is 16-for-45 in 14 games at Target Field this season. He has gone 4-for-13 in the three games since he's returned from the disabled list.
Yankees: Teixeira, Ellsbury expected back
First baseman Mark Teixeira and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury were held out of Wednesday's tilt with the Rays, but both should return to the lineup for Thursday's series opener with the Twins.
Teixeira had to have fluid drained from his left knee, which had been bothering him for a few days, but skipper Joe Girardi sees no reason he'll have to miss more time.
"He's played with this," Girardi said Wednesday. "We really believe he'll be back in there tomorrow."
Ellsbury has been dealing with general soreness, and the team felt it best for the speedy outfielder to have a day off before it embarks on an 11-game road trip.
• Twins first baseman Joe Mauer was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday with a right oblique strain after he suffered the injury in Tuesday night's game with the Royals. Utilityman Chris Colabello was recalled from Triple-A Rochester to take his place on the active roster.
• Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner has reached base safely in 18 straight games, going 22-for-68 with 10 walks during that span. He has recorded a hit in 15 of those contests.
• The Yankees are 17-4 this season when leading after the first inning but hold a 24-38 mark in all other games. They led, 1-0, after the first inning in Wednesday's loss to the Rays.
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.