Hughes falters late as Twins stumble in opener
Righty allows four runs as part of Jays' five-run sixth inning
MINNEAPOLIS -- Phil Hughes appeared well on his way to becoming the fourth straight Twins pitcher to record a quality start, but just like that, it was gone in the sixth inning against the Blue Jays.
After Twins starters combined to post a 2.11 ERA in a three-game sweep over the Royals over the weekend, Hughes was right on track to keep that going by starting off Tuesday with five scoreless innings.
But Hughes stumbled in the sixth, as the Blue Jays rallied for a five-run inning to hand the Twins a 9-3 loss on Jackie Robinson Day at Target Field. The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Twins, who are just 5-21 against the Blue Jays over their last 26 meetings dating back to 2010.
"It's too bad because it was another good outing and then he ends up leaving like that," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He was on a roll and then he just fell apart. It happened quick."
Hughes was solid with seven strikeouts and no runs allowed through five innings, but it all unraveled in the sixth. He ended up getting charged with four runs on eight hits and a walk over five-plus innings to keep his ERA at 7.20 early this season.
It has been a disturbing pattern for Hughes, who has given up four runs in five innings in all three of his starts with the Twins in the early going. Hughes has also given up 10 of those 12 runs in just three of those innings this season.
"It's been three starts and three bad innings it seems like," Hughes said.
Munenori Kawasaki led off the sixth with a double down the left-field line before scoring on a single from Jose Bautista to make it a one run game. Adam Lind followed with a single to center to put runners at first and third with nobody out.
Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson visited Hughes after Lind's single, but Hughes remained in the game to face Edwin Encarnacion, who promptly laced a 3-0 fastball into center field for a game-tying RBI single.
"Obviously, the ground ball down the line in the sixth inning is not how you want to start and then from there I couldn't execute a pitch to three straight guys," Hughes said. "I just kind of lost it there for a minute and that was it."
Hughes was then removed in favor of right-hander Michael Tonkin, who quickly gave up a bloop single to Dioner Navarro to load the bases. Tonkin got Moises Sierra to ground out weakly to first base, but Joe Mauer opted to tag Sierra for the first out instead of throwing home, which allowed the go-ahead run to score.
It only got worse from there for the Twins, as the Blue Jays scored two runs on one play. On a sacrifice fly to center field from Brett Lawrie, Aaron Hicks threw home to try to get Encarnacion after a sliding catch, but Encarnacion beat the throw. Catcher Kurt Suzuki then tried to throw out Navarro as he attempted to reach third, but the throw skipped past Trevor Plouffe into left field, allowing Navarro to score.
"We missed a couple plays and didn't make the right decisions," Gardenhire said. "We had a chance at home on the ball hit to Mauer, and on one of the throws home [on Bautista's single] we cut it off, and I thought we had a chance to get that runner, too. So a couple plays defensively we didn't do the right thing."
It was enough offense for the Blue Jays despite a subpar start from Brandon Morrow, who lasted just 3 2/3 innings. The right-hander gave up two runs on four hits and four walks with four strikeouts.
The Twins scored early against Morrow with Brian Dozier leading off the first inning with a walk and scoring on a double from Chris Colabello that went off the wall in right-center field. Minnesota added another run in the second, when Pedro Florimon tripled with two outs and scored on an RBI single from Mauer.
But Toronto's bullpen was solid, as Aaron Loup, Neil Wagner, Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar and Sergio Santos combined to throw 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball in relief of Morrow. After Morrow exited in fourth, the Twins failed to get a hit until pinch-hitter Eduardo Escobar singled with two outs in the eighth.
The Blue Jays added four insurance runs in the ninth on a Lawrie grand slam off Jared Burton, who walked three straight batters with two outs, before Plouffe hit a solo homer in the Twins' half of the frame for the final score of the evening.
"We have a good hitting team," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. "Hughes was tough on us early and then we had that one big inning where we broke it open and our bullpen, they all needed to pitch, so it was a perfect night for that and they all did a great job."