Hughes adept at making baserunners disappear
Bucs reliever escapes bases-loaded jam; Kang continues sustained surge
MINNEAPOLIS -- Matchup relief pitchers are commonplace in baseball. Specialists abound. When a game-changing left-handed hitter comes up, you go get your southpaw. When the bases are loaded, the Pirates go get Jared Hughes.
"I've been going to this man like he's a Swiss Army Knife," manager Clint Hurdle said Wednesday afternoon, after Hughes had whittled another opposition hope down to nothing in the Bucs' eventual 10-4 win over the Twins at Target Field.
Yes, the Pirates had a "safe" 8-3 lead when Hughes took over from Antonio Bastardo with the bases loaded and one out in the seventh. Just like that "safe" 7-3 lead in the eighth inning on Tuesday night, which quickly turned into a 7-7 tie with no one to slam the door.
"Honestly, I didn't think of that comparison," Hughes said. "I was so focused on today's game."
Hughes struck out Eddie Rosario. Got Eduardo Nunez on a simple grounder to first base.
Door slammed. Again.
This was the sixth game this season Hughes entered with the bases loaded. In eight plate appearances under those conditions, batters have totaled one hit off him.
And that represents a slump: Last season, batters were 0-for-11 off Hughes with the bases loaded.
"One of his biggest strengths has been dependability," Hurdle said. "You know what you're going to get with him coming out of the 'pen: He's going to throw strikes, and you got to swing the bat. He's going to be able to sink [the pitch] or come up with a slider to counter it with a little swing-and-miss pitch."
You may know what you're going to get. But you don't know when you're going to get it. This season, Hughes has made multiple appearances anywhere from the fifth to the ninth inning. That's the way Swiss Army Knives roll.
"I'm ready to go whenever [Hurdle] needs me," Hughes said. "I start doing my stretching early in the game and I'm ready whenever … first, fifth, seventh. The scenarios might be different -- different part of the game or of the lineup -- but the same mindset always goes: Attack the zone, force contact, trust the defense."
And strand the baserunners. Hughes has a now inherited a total of 33 baserunners this season. Four of them have scored.
"He's been our go-to guy with men on base," Hurdle said. "He's definitely been a big factor for us."
Touching all the bases
• First: Aramis Ramirez's hitless return to the Pirates ended at 14 at-bats, with his partially-wind-blown double to the right-field warning track in the fifth; four innings later, Ramirez smashed a single high off the right-field wall.
• Second: Lefty Jayson Aquino, designated for assignment by the Bucs a week ago to open space on the 40-man roster for Pedro Florimon, was swapped on Wednesday to the Indians for cash considerations. Aquino had been with Class A Advanced Bradenton.
• Third: Jung Ho Kang homered in back-to-back-games for the first time as part of a 3-for-5 day that improved his average in the last 14 games to .429 (24-for-56).
• Matching their season peak of 18 games above .500 only 48 hours prior to Friday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline could either stimulate or discourage the Pirates' trade talks.
"These games continue to bring attention to areas we might think about improving," Hurdle said. "But playing well can also tell you that you can get things done with what you got."