CINCINNATI – His fastball is a couple of miles slower than a year ago, he still pitches up in the strike zone and his home runs allowed are a little alarming.
But Phil Hughes has learned how to adjust and survive.
He gave up two more home runs Tuesday but reached the final third of the game once again, leading the Twins to a sorely-needed 8-5 victory over the Reds at Great American Ball Park in a game that started 2 hours, 1 minute late because of a rain delay.
Despite giving his 18th and 19th home runs of the season — tying him for second most in baseball — Hughes filled up the strike zone with a variety of pitches. At 7-6, he moved over the .500 mark for the first time this season.
Hughes won despite his teammates threatening to undo all of his crafty work in the late innings.
Up 7-1 in the seventh, Torii Hunter missed catching a foul ball, and Marlon Byrd homered on the next pitch. Eduardo Nunez and Brian Dozier committed errors that led to two runs and the removal of Hughes from the game after 99 pitches. His replacement, Blaine Boyer, promptly threw a wild pitch that allowed the fourth run of the inning to score as Cincinnati used the chaos to close to 7-5.
Hughes even walked a batter in that inning, ending a run of 27 walkless innings.
Joe Mauer let a grounder go through his legs in the eighth for an error. A run didn’t score, but the error added to the anxiety.
“It was a little nervous moment for a while,” Hughes said, “but we got the win and that’s all that matters.”
The scary seventh ruined Hughes’ bid to pitch eight innings for the third consecutive outing, but he’s still 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA over his past three starts.
Hughes has showed no psychological damage from not seeing the radar gun approach 94 miles per hour, which it used to last year. On Tuesday his fastball was measured at 88-91.
He has good control. He complements his fastball with a cut fastball that he throws on both corners of the plate. He mixes in a curveball. And he has listened to pitching coach Neil Allen’s request to add a changeup here and there.
“I relied on my two-seamer and cutter more than I like,” Hughes said. “Until guys make adjustments to that, if they start to sit [on] soft I’ll ride my four-seamer in. I have enough weapons to get by with what it is now. Hopefully I’ll continue to execute. That’s the main thing.”
Hunter homered to left in the first to open the scoring, and Eduardo Nunez scored on a fielder’s choice in the second. Eugenio Suarez homered in the third to make it 2-1, but Mauer added a sacrifice fly in the fifth to push the Twins lead to 3-1.
The Twins then erupted for four runs in the seventh, knocking Reds starter Anthony De- Sclafani from the game. But then the Twins fielders stopped playing defense and threw the game somewhat into doubt.
Mauer’s RBI single in the eighth scored Hunter and provided the Twins a three-run cushion.
Glen Perkins came on in the ninth, shook off a two-out walk and earned his 25th save in as many chances.
Although the game ended in July in Eastern Time, the Twins finished 11-17 in June.
“I was really happy we were adding on [runs],” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “because things have not been smooth at the end of games.’’