PITTSBURGH -- The Jared Hughes Project, the Pirates' most downplayed undertaking of the summer, took a significant forward step on Friday night.
In his first appearance for the Bucs in two months, Hughes pitched a scoreless eighth inning against Colorado. Hughes did allow a hit and a walk, but manager Clint Hurdle felt the outing moved him closer to resuming the important role he played as a rookie in the 2012 bullpen's success.
"We saw a guy probably just excited to be back," said Hurdle, attributing some command issues to adrenaline. "He was in a little hurry at times. But we're in a good place with him. I know he feels good just getting that one behind him."
Hughes was placed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation on June 3, but has admitted pitching with discomfort for a while before deciding to clue in team staff. He remained shut down for nearly a month, following the recovery program laid out for him by the training staff, which Hughes continued during a three-week rehab assignment to Indianapolis.
In 18 total appearances with the Triple-A Indians -- including on a straight option earlier in the season -- Hughes allowed one run in 21 innings, for an ERA of 0.43.
Hughes wore a wide smile after Friday's outing, saying, "I felt good. Pain-free. That's much better."
Hughes has a 4.67 ERA in 17 1/3 innings this season in three separate big league stints, and a return of the guy who in 2012 led all National League rookie relievers with a 2.85 ERA (in 66 appearances) could be huge for the Bucs.
Jason Grilli's injury and Mark Melancon's move into the closer's role has had a trickle-down effect on the setup class. Last season, Hughes appeared to be getting groomed for that job, and he can still be an important span on the new bridge to Melancon.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.