Hughes allowed one run in 2 2/3 innings Tuesday in his debut for the Twins, who lost to the Miami Marlins 3-1.
Last year Hughes went 4-14 with the New York Yankees after missing all of spring training because of a back injury.
"I hope that's a big improvement for me," Hughes said. "Everyone says these are exhibitions and you go through the motions and they don't count, but for pitchers it's really important to get these repetitions and build up arm strength.
"I don't want to make any excuses for the season I had last year, but I didn't have a spring training, and it's definitely difficult," he said. "To have a healthy spring and build my pitch count on a normal progression will help a lot."
Hughes allowed two hits and one walk and struck out three. He threw 44 pitches, 25 for strikes.
The Marlins won even though they committed five errors and let an easy popup drop for a hit.
"It's sloppy," manager Mike Redmond said. "These are routine plays, too."
Twins: Hughes said his priority was to work on curves. He threw at least eight, including a pair of strikeout pitches to Christian Yelich.
The right-hander allowed a walk and two singles in the second inning.
"Finding a good rhythm and good sink out of the stretch today was a little tough," Hughes said. "Out of the windup, I felt my mechanics were solid."
Hughes made the drive across the Florida peninsula to Jupiter on Monday night, rather than waking up early to catch the team bus Tuesday morning. He reported no alligator sightings.
"It's hyped up, but I didn't see one," he said. "Maybe on the way back. They said to watch out and not flip your car on one of those things."
Marlins: Koehler found himself in a none-out, bases-loaded jam in the second inning after a defensive lapse, then retired the next three batters.
Koehler went 5-10 in 29 games last year, with 23 starts. He's one of at least four candidates for the final two spots in the Marlins' rotation.
"It's not an issue of stuff," he said. "It's little things here and there, the game within the game. The longer you play, the more dirt you have in your spikes, the better you are at handling certain situations."
Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said he received an encouraging report from general manager Terry Ryan, who is on leave after being diagnosed with neck cancer.
"He said every day he feels better, so everything's going in the right direction," Antony said. Ryan had surgery last month and will undergo radiation therapy.
Top Twins prospect Byron Buxton made his first start and went 0 for 5. Even so, he made a good impression by nearly beating out a couple of grounders.
"He hits a groundball and you think it's going to be routine, and it's bam-bam at first base," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "That's what he does. He plays hard."