Hughes, celebrating his 29th birthday on Wednesday, has quietly turned the corner from his early-season struggles, and it was evident against the White Sox, as he gave up just one run over eight innings to outpitch Sale and lead the Twins to a 6-1 win and a much-needed series victory. It was the fourth straight quality start for Hughes, who has a 2.42 ERA over that span and has pitched at least eight innings in his last two outings.
It was another important step for Hughes, who has been looking to regain his form from last year, when he was the club's best pitcher, with a 3.52 ERA in 32 starts.
"I think the last couple starts have been mirroring what he did last year," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. "He's getting more swings and misses, and [he's] commanded his pitches for the most part. He went through a little bit of a period where he wasn't the most confident guy and had to invent things to get outs, but now he's back to trusting his three main pitches."
Hughes said his stuff still isn't quite where he wants it to be, but he said he's starting to command his pitches better and has been mixing in more breaking balls and changeups to keep hitters off balance.
"I still don't have my best stuff, but it's about being able to execute," Hughes said. "Fastball velocity and things like that are only part of the equation."
The lone blemish for Hughes was serving up a solo shot to Adam LaRoche in the second, but he settled in after that.
Hughes, though, said he remained confident despite giving up the homer, as the Twins have put up good numbers against Sale this year and were able to do it again. Sale gave up six runs (five earned) over 6 2/3 innings. He has a 6.46 ERA in four outings against Minnesota, but a 1.88 ERA against everyone else.
"Obviously, when LaRoche hits that homer, that's not how you want things to start off -- especially when you're going up against guy who has been so tough," Hughes said. "But we've put up some good at-bats against him, and so the mood was pretty good. We knew what we had to do against him and we put up a bunch of runs."
Having Hughes return to his form from last year would be a big boost for the Twins, who have leaned heavily on their improved rotation this year and are set to get Ervin Santana back from his suspension on July 5.
"I hope this momentum carries over and I start rolling again," Hughes said. "It was obviously a tough start to my year, but there's a lot of games ahead of us. We've done a lot good things, and I want to be there at the end and be a good starter for us."