The Bucs and the Reds were tied at 3. You might not expect a pitcher to be given such a key assignment fresh off a spring in which he was rocked for 11 earned runs and 17 hits in 9 1/3 innings.
But you understand it once you realize the confidence both Hughes and Hurdle have in the pitcher.
"I was totally ready to come into that spot," Hughes said after the Bucs' pre-dawn 5-4 defeat in 11 innings. "Yeah, I had a few rough outings in the spring, but I'm very confident I've got what it takes to succeed at this level."
Hurdle saw that success in 2012 and again in '14, although injury wrecked the tall right-hander's in-between season.
"Yeah, he had a rough spring, but look at the volume of work he's done two of the last three years," Hurdle said. "The guy's pitched big innings. And I always prefer to get the experienced guys in the game quick. He gave us a really good outing."
Hughes retired the side in order in the sixth, and after the Bucs grabbed their only lead of the night in the top of the seventh, he remained in the game to work the bottom of the frame. He again started off with two straight outs, but both Zack Cozart and Brennan Boesch made him work hard through numerous fouls. That might have contributed to the last man faced by Hughes, Billy Hamilton, punching a single up the middle that eventually turned into the tying run on Joey Votto's single off lefty Antonio Bastardo.
"Those two batters took a lot out of him," Hurdle acknowledged. "To get five outs, he pitched really well. He sunk the ball, threw a couple of good sliders and changeups. He looked sharp."
The faith shown in him by Hurdle did not surprise Hughes.
"Hey, I think he should [have faith in me]. I definitely want him to go to me," Hughes said, "and I'm always ready for him to come to me. And when he does, I'm going to go out there and get after it, keep proving that I belong here."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.