Hughes maximizing quality in successful run

With 2.47 ERA over last five starts, Twins righty hurt only by solo homers, defense in win over Reds

Hughes maximizing quality in successful run

CINCINNATI -- After a slow start to the season, right-hander Phil Hughes has found his groove this month and is looking more and more like the pitcher who was the Twins' best starter last season.

Even after an ugly seventh inning that saw the Twins commit two errors that led to two unearned runs, Hughes was strong yet again on Tuesday in an 8-5 win over the Reds during a game that was delayed by rain for 121 minutes.

Hughes went 6 2/3 innings, allowing two earned runs (four total) on seven hits and a walk. It was the fifth straight quality start for Hughes, who has a 2.47 ERA over that span. He's been even better over his last three outings with a 1.59 ERA, giving up four earned runs in his last 22 2/3 innings.

"It was another good performance, and he's strung a few together now," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "He's pitching aggressively and trusting his stuff. His pitch count was down, and he was economical going into that last inning. But our defense wasn't very tight tonight, and he couldn't get out of that inning, so we had to go to the bullpen. But overall he was very good."

Hughes' lone issue was serving up a pair of solo shots, and he's now given up 19 homers in 16 starts. But the last five have been solo blasts, and Hughes said he's still pitching with plenty of confidence.

Suarez's solo shot

"It's high right now, for sure," Hughes said. "I'm obviously throwing the ball a lot better than I was early in the year. I just have to keep working hard and hope it continues."

Hughes couldn't get through the seventh, but he was hurt by an error from shortstop Eduardo Nunez that would've ended the inning. Molitor decided to lift Hughes after 99 pitches and went with reliever Blaine Boyer, who promptly gave up an RBI single to Ivan De Jesus Jr.

It got worse from there, as Brian Dozier followed with a throwing error to allow another run to score. Boyer then threw a run-scoring wild pitch before finally getting out of the jam by getting Todd Frazier to pop up to catcher Kurt Suzuki.

Hamilton scores on an error

The ugly inning hurt Hughes' stat line, but it was the defense that let him down, as right fielder Torii Hunter also couldn't handle a shallow fly ball in foul territory from Marlon Byrd before he ultimately homered to lead off the frame. But Hughes still came away satisfied with the way he pitched and that the Twins came away with a much-needed win.

Byrd's solo homer

"Those are things that just happen," Hughes said. "I had to make a few extra pitches and things like that. I couldn't get through the seventh, but it's the way it goes. It's just nice to win the game, because for a minute it looked like it was getting out of control, which would've been especially disappointing after the way we played up to that point."

Rhett Bollinger is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Bollinger Beat, follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.