SEATTLE – Phil Hughes’ next outing is scheduled for Sunday in Colorado. So even if he made the AL All-Star team he would have been unable to pitch in the Midsummer Classic because of a league rule prohibiting pitchers who start so close to the game from appearing.
But Hughes had sealed his own fate, anyway, with his previous three starts. He gave up five, five and seven runs in those outings, ruining what had been an impressive start to his Twins career. Hughes didn’t need an All-Star Game to validate his bounce-back season, but he needed a well-pitched game Tuesday to stop his slide.
He was presented with the Mariners, a team largely without threatening hitters. Hughes used them as a slumpbuster and twirled his way to a 2-0 victory over Seattle at Safeco Field.
“You could see it early. He was pounding the strike zone, working ahead in the count,’’ Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “A lot of fastballs. When he did use his breaking ball, it was sharp, too. He went right at them. He kept throwing the same way the entire time.’’
It was a much-needed victory for the Twins, losers of 11 of their previous 14 games. They also had lost 11 of their past 12 on the road.
Hughes pitched 7 ⅓ shutout innings, giving up eight hits, striking out eight and walking none, as he improved to 9-5 while lowering his ERA to 3.70.
It was Bark at the Park night at Safeco, meaning fans were allowed to bring their dogs to the game and sit in a section reserved for them. The offenses for both clubs could be summed up with one word: Woof. But Twins outfielder Sam Fuld hit a home run off Seattle righthander Chris Young in the fifth inning for the first run of the game, and it held up.
Hughes came out filling the strike zone as he likes to do, retiring eight of the first nine batters he faced. Seattle got a runner to second base in the third inning, and Logan Morrison led off the fourth inning with a double. That was it in terms of runners in scoring position during first seven innings.
“I felt like my fastball command was good tonight, and I worked from there,’’ Hughes said.
It was the 14th time in 18 starts Hughes has pitched at least six innings in a start. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the first 20 batters he faced.
Hughes ran into a bit of trouble in the eighth, giving up back-to-back one-out singles to Michael Saudners and James Jones.
Gardenhire brought in Casey Fien to face Seattle’s Robinson Cano. Fien got the Mariners’ best hitter to ground into a double play on which Brian Dozier chased down and tagged out Jones and fired to first to end the inning.
“I had vision in my head of Robinson Cano hitting a three-run homer. I’ve seen it too many times,’’ Hughes said. “But Fiener got him to roll over. That was good to see.’’
Hughes, who made the 150th start of his career Tuesday, has been the ace of the staff. And he will have to continue to do so as righthander Ricky Nolasco recovers from a strained flexor pronator in his right elbow.
All Hughes and the Twins were left to worry about were runs. The injury-depleted Twins lineup has struggled to score, and it didn’t help that Young pitched well, too. The Twins stranded a runner at second in each of the first three innings, so it had the look of one of those nights that have been frequent this season.
Then Fuld got hold of a belt-high fastball in the fifth and drove it just over the wall in right for the first run of the game.
It was Fuld’s first homer as a Twin after hitting one against them when he connected off Mike Pelfrey on April 10 while with Oakland. The Twins added a second run in the eighth on Dozier’s sacrifice fly, which scored Eduardo Escobar, who led off with a walk.
“Falling behind was a mistake,’’ Young said of Fuld’s homer. “The pitch wasn’t necessarily a mistake, challenging the No. 9 hitter with a 3-2 fastball. Then walking Escobar to start the eighth. Both runs cost us.’’