Hughes comes up huge with solid start

With Twins chasing Wild Card, veteran righty twirls five scoreless innings

Hughes comes up huge with solid start

MINNEAPOLIS -- After he allowed three runs in three innings against the Tigers on Sept. 15 in his return from a herniated disc in his back, there was no guarantee Phil Hughes would start again this season.

Twins manager Paul Molitor moved Hughes to the bullpen after his shaky outing, and Hughes even pitched two innings in relief Saturday. But with lefty Tommy Milone scratched with shoulder fatigue, Hughes made the start in his place Wednesday night and came up huge, tossing five scoreless innings to outpitch Indians ace Corey Kluber and lead the Twins to a 4-2 win at Target Field.

It helped the Twins gain ground in the chase for the second American League Wild Card spot for a second straight night, as they now trail the Astros by one game with 11 games left.

"We were kinda hoping we'd get that kind of performance," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "We talked about him going out there and giving us what he had after what happened over the last six weeks. He had to battle, but I think he gained confidence out there."

Hughes, who scattered four hits without a walk and four strikeouts, admitted it was a big confidence boost, as it was his first win since July 30, and helped prove to himself that his stuff is good enough to compete down the stretch with the Twins fighting to make the postseason for the first time since 2010.

"It's nice any time you can get a little bit of a confidence boost," Hughes said. "I wasn't in a position of feeling very good about myself. Having this outing is a step in the right direction and we have some games left, so hopefully this can propel me into pitching well."

With Milone still bothered by the shoulder fatigue, Hughes is expected to remain in the rotation with his next start lined up against the Indians again Monday in Cleveland. He's hopeful this outing can be a springboard with the Twins still fighting for the Wild Card spot.

"This is the time of year where every good performance is magnified," Hughes said. "It was nice to get this one and hopefully it puts me in a spot to help the team down the stretch."

Hughes certainly helped the Twins with his effort Wednesday, and Molitor congratulated him after he came out of the game once he got through the fifth on 66 pitches.

"To bounce back and give us those five zeros, I told him those were the five biggest zeros he's given us this year," Molitor said. "He gave us a chance to win."

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.