La Velle E. Neal III has covered baseball for the Star Tribune since 1998 (the post-Knoblauch era). Born and raised in Chicago, he grew up following the White Sox and hating the Cubs. He attended both the University of Illinois and Illinois-Chicago and began his baseball writing career at the Kansas City Star. He can be heard occasionally on KFAN radio, lending his great baseball mind to Paul Allen and other hosts. Mark Rosen borrows him occasionally for WCCO-TV.

Twins rewrite: Hughes sharp as they down Mariners 2-0

Posted by: La Velle E. Neal III Updated: July 9, 2014 - 1:15 AM


By La VELLE E. NEAL III
lneal@startribune.com

SEATTLE -- Phil Hughes was his strike-throwing self on Tuesday as he dominated the Mariners for seven innings.

With one out in the eighth, he gave up singles to Michael Saunders and James Jones. He was reminded of recent outings that quickly went haywire.

``Frustration was setting in.'' Hughes admitted.

Robinson Cano came to the plate, 1-for-3 on the night as the ex-Yankees were facing each other for the first time.

But Hughes would not have a fourth battle with Cano. Manager Ron Gardenhire replaced him with Casey Fien, and Hughes went to the bench and worried.

``I had visions in my head of Robinson Cano hitting a three-run home run,'' Hughes said.  ``I've seen it too many times.''

Fien, however, got Cano to hit into a double play. Brian Dozier fielded the bouncer, raced over to tag Jones then flipped to first to execute the play.  The Twins went on to win 2-0 and Hughes was able to shake off his last three starts, in which he was shaky and likely cost himself a spot in the All-Star Game.

Hughes has seen what Cano has done in big situations, but what about Fien? He leads Twins relievers with 14 homers and only two of 14 inherited runners (14.3 percent) have scored off him all season.

``Casey Fien probably had the biggest out of the night, no matter what everyone else did,'' Gardenhire said. ``You go up there facing Cano, that's a big situation.''

Hughes, 9-5, ended his mini-skid with 71/3 strong innings, giving up eight hits while striking out eight. A bounceback night after posting a 8.05 ERA over his three previous starts.

Sam Fuld, after crashing into the wall while being too short to catch Sauders' home run on Monday, got his revenge on Safeco Field on Tuesday by going 3-for-3 with a home run and two stolen bases. A sorely needed night for the Twins, who entered having lost 11 of their previous 14 overall and 11 of 12 on the road.

Hughes came out filling up the strike zone, 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. Morrison was stranded at second in the fourth. Kyle Seager hit a two out single in the sixth but that was it. Corey Hart charged up the small crowd in the seventh with a single to center, but everybody groaned when Dustin Ackley followed by hitting into a routine 4-6-3 double play. 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.

And Hughes is 5-0, 0.61 at Safeco Field.

``He was tough,'' Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager said. ``His fastball really got on you, and he was throwing pretty hard. It was sneaky. You take swings at it, and it gets there faster than you expected it to. And he threw a couple of backdoor cutters that were tough. He located that real well, too. That’s a tough combination.''

All Hughes and the Twins were left to worry about were runs. The Twins stranded a runner at second in each of the first three innings, so it had the look at one of those nights that have been frequent this season.

Then Fuld got hold of a 3-2 belt-high fastball in the fifth and drove it just over the wall in right for the first run of the game. It was his first homer as a Twin after hitting one against the Twins when he connected off of Mike Pelfrey on April 10 while with Oakland. The Twins added a second run in the eighth on Dozier's sacrifice fly.

Offense aside, it was rather well played by the Twins. They stole three bases and a few nice defensive plays. Two came in the ninth when third baseman Eduardo Nunez raced into foul territory and, with his back to the mound, made a sliding catch of Seager's pop up. Then shortstop Eduardo Escobar went into the hole to grab Willie Bloomquist's grounder and fired to first to end the game.

``A good win,'' Gardenhire said. ``We needed it.''

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