Under different circumstances, Phil Hughes would have had a nice dinner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday night before pitching for the Kernels on Wednesday in the Midwest League playoffs.
But the Twins were in a hurry to get him back. Other starters could be pushed back in the rotation. And manager Paul Molitor had other reasons.
“I was curious enough about seeing if he was going to be able to do something and come back and help us over the last three weeks,” he said. “I didn’t have the luxury of waiting too much longer.”
The Twins hoped some of that old Hughes magic would reappear and help them beat Detroit as they continue their push for a wild-card spot. None of it happened. A rusty Hughes lasted only 65 pitches and three innings, and the Tigers held off the Twins 5-4 to end a four-game losing streak against their Central Division foe.
With Hughes (10-9) making his first start since Aug. 9 because of a sore back, the Twins were down 3-0 early but tried to rally from a 4-1 deficit in the late innings.
Byron Buxton led off the seventh with a double. Aaron Hicks followed with a bunt single down the first-base line, putting runners on first and third. Brian Dozier, facing Tigers starter Alfredo Simon, struck out. Reliever Blaine Hardy walked Joe Mauer to load the bases and bring Miguel Sano to the plate. Detroit brought in righthander Drew VerHagen, who served up a two-run single to Sano to close the deficit to 4-3. Trevor Plouffe then hit into his league-leading 27th double play to end the threat.
The Tigers added a run in the ninth, when Andrew Romine’s squeeze bunt enabled Tyler Collins to score, before the Twins made it interesting in the bottom half of the inning. Brian Dozier drew a two-out walk, then scored on Joe Mauer’s RBI double. That brought Sano up for a possible encore, but he struck out to end the game.
Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon picked up his fifth save. He hit 100 miles per hour on the radar gun with one pitch to Hicks, but he threw all sliders to Sano. Simon went 6 ⅓ innings to improve to 13-9.
Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos hit RBI singles off Hughes in the first as the Tigers took a 2-0 lead. Hughes threw 23 pitches in the first, only 10 of them strikes. He struggled with his curveball and looked like a rusty pitcher taking the mound after a long layoff. He was reinstated earlier in the day.
Hughes looked much better in the second inning, getting his breaking ball over for strikes and was generally around the plate more. But James McCann doubled and scored on Anthony Gose’s single up the middle as Detroit took a 3-0 lead.
Hughes did not give up a run in the third, but endured an 11-pitch encounter with J.D. Martinez. Pitch No. 10 was struck just foul down the right field line, and Martinez struck out on the next pitch. In three innings, Hughes gave up three runs on six hits and a walk with four strikeouts.
“To finish things on a good note is nice,” Hughes said. “All in all, it’s disappointing. At least there were some positive signs.”
The Twins were able to push Mike Pelfrey back in the rotation, and they might start Hughes on Sunday against the Angels to give Tyler Duffey a break. Duffey has pitched a career high 177 ⅓ innings this season between the minors and majors.
“I’ll ponder that a little bit,” Molitor said of Hughes’ next start. “I’ll get input from [pitching coach] Neil [Allen] and [bullpen coach] Eddie [Guardado] and see going forward.”