Phil Hughes retired six of the seven hitters he faced in a two-inning relief stint in Game 2 of Saturday’s Twins-Angels doubleheader. Not bad — does he think there’s a future for him in relief pitching?
“I think there’s a past for me in relief pitching,” he said.
True, Hughes worked out of the bullpen 50 times during his career with the Yankees, most recently on Sept. 6, 2013, but this was his first relief appearance ever with the Twins.
It didn’t start so well. “You get [Mike] Trout and [Albert] Pujols right out of the chute, and you haven’t been out of the pen in a long time, it’s a tough order,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said of his decision to press his Opening Day starter into service as a reliever. “Trout had a good at-bat, got an elevated pitch with two strikes and he didn’t miss it.”
It landed deep in the left-field stands, the 29th home run Hughes has given up this season. That leaves him tied with Detroit’s Anibal Sanchez for most homers allowed in the AL, remarkable considering Hughes returned Tuesday after missing five weeks because of a back injury.
Hughes did retire Pujols on a fly ball and mowed through the next five hitters, a successful outing that nevertheless leaves his status in flux.
“It seemed like he got into a little better groove there. We saw some good curveballs and cutters,” Molitor said. “We’re still trying to figure out where he’s going to slot here, if and when, so to get him in there — I wasn’t going to force it, but we kind of needed to do that in that situation.”
Hughes said he didn’t mind. “At this point, it’s all hands on deck. [It’s about] winning games,” he said. “Nobody’s worried about their season stats, or being selfish. We’re trying to piece things together, and in whatever capacity I can help that cause, I’m all for.”
His start Tuesday, his first since Aug. 9, didn’t go particularly well; he needed 65 pitches for three innings, giving up three runs in a loss to the Tigers that started the Twins’ losing streak that now stands at five.
But “I felt OK. I made some pitches, got through it,” he said. “Maybe I was a little bit sharper. The mistakes don’t get magnified as much in relief.”
On the house
There was no “maybe” in Dave St. Peter’s assurances Friday, via a tweet on Twitter, to a fan from Brainerd that the Twins would play that night. So when the game was rained out, he figured he owed Colin McLain and his 8-year-old daughter, Kira, a ballgame.
“He’s not a weather forecaster. It’s OK, stuff happens,” said McLain, who makes the three-hour drive four or five times a season. “So I couldn’t believe it when we got that message.”
The message from St. Peter was: Stay the night. Come to Saturday’s makeup game. On the Twins.
It was the idea of Twins director of travel Mike Herman, St. Peter said, but he quickly signed off on it. The Twins paid for a room at the Loews Hotel, dinner and breakfast, parking and even upgraded the McLains’ tickets from deep right field to behind the plate.
“They took the time and energy to come to Target Field. I thought it was money well spent to get them to see a game, and maybe have a good memory,” St. Peter said. “I was happy it worked out.”
So were the McLains. Best part about the unexpected overnight? “There was a TV in the bathroom,” said Kira.
• Joe Mauer went 0-for-7 in the doubleheader but did draw a walk in both games, extending his career-best streak to 39 consecutive games of reaching base at least once. Only Bob Allison (42 games in 1961) and Harmon Killebrew (40 in 1967) have had a longer streak for the Twins. But it’s hard to describe Mauer as “hot” — the three-time batting champion is hitting only .268 (40-for-149) with 23 walks during the streak.
• Kyle Gibson was scheduled to pitch Saturday night, but he was switched to the day game partly, Molitor said, because of Mike Pelfrey’s better record at night: He has a 5.06 day ERA vs. a 4.26 night ERA over his career. Molitor conferred with both pitchers after Friday’s rainout before flipping them.
• Molitor made three lineup changes between games, playing veterans such as Mauer, Brian Dozier and Torii Hunter in both. That wouldn’t have been the case earlier in the season, Molitor said, but the pennant race changes things: “It’s tough to call on people to play two games, especially in this split format. But we need to try to win.”