MINNEAPOLIS -- Phil Hughes was undoubtedly Minnesota's ace last season, so it's hard to blame Twins manager Paul Molitor for trying to get him back into the rotation as quickly as possible.
Hughes, who had been out since Aug. 9 with lower back stiffness, returned to action without a rehab assignment, and it showed as the right-hander was rusty in a 5-4 loss to the Tigers on Tuesday night at Target Field. It dropped the Twins to 1 1/2 games behind the Astros for the second American League Wild Card spot.
Hughes, activated from the 15-day disabled list before the game, lasted three innings, allowing three runs on six hits and a walk. He was on a 75-pitch limit but left after throwing 65 pitches.
"I was curious enough about seeing if he could do something to help us the last three weeks and I didn't have the luxury of waiting too much longer," Molitor said. "I thought it was something that would be good if he was able to keep us in it midway through the game, but it just didn't work out."
Hughes, coming off a 45-pitch simulated game in Kansas City on Wednesday, struck out four, but threw only six fastballs that registered higher than 90 mph. He struck out the first batter he faced, but gave up a pair of back-to-back RBI singles to Victor Martinez and Nick Castellanos to put the Twins in an early hole.
"It was obviously not the start I was looking to have," Hughes said. "I had to find my way through the first a little bit. Victor Martinez hits a ground ball that gets through and Castellanos hits a flare to right. Obviously not the start I would've liked but I felt like I was more comfortable as it went along."
Hughes nearly got out of a jam in the second with a runner at third and two outs, but Anthony Gose was able to sneak a single past a diving Trevor Plouffe at third to make it a three-run game.
"Gose's base hit in the second was a big hit," Molitor said. "He didn't hit it particularly well, but he hit in the right spot. It turned out to be a big run in a one-run game."
Hughes said he believes he's past the back injury and didn't feel any stiffness after the game, but added that it didn't make him feel any better about his outing.
"I felt physically fine afterward but at this point in the season it's about wins," Hughes said. "It's just disappointing to get off to that kind of start. I could've helped swing the momentum but put us in a hole early."
Molitor said he's not sure what the plan is for Hughes moving forward, as he'll meet with pitching coach Neil Allen to determine whether to give him another start on normal rest on Sunday against the Angels.
"I'll ponder that a little bit," Molitor said. "We'll see going forward."