All of that changed in the sixth when the Blue Jays erupted to score five runs before eventually going into cruise control en route to backing right-hander Brandon Morrow and an impressive bullpen with a 9-3 victory over the Twins on Tuesday night on Jackie Robinson Day.
"We have a good hitting team and I figured that wasn't going to last very long," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Hughes was tough on us early and then we had that one big inning where we broke it open and our bullpen -- they all needed to pitch -- so it was a perfect night for that and they all did a great job."
Toronto's offense has gotten off to a relatively slow start this season, but there have been some encouraging signs in the past couple of games. The Blue Jays scored 11 runs on 17 hits on Sunday in Baltimore and followed that up with the nine runs on 14 hits vs. Minnesota.
The recent hot streak has moved the Blue Jays all the way up to 12th in the Major Leagues with 61 runs scored. After spending the first couple of weeks in the bottom three for average and on-base percentage, Toronto is now 21st and 16th overall in those respective categories.
The most encouraging aspect of Tuesday night's win is it was an all-around team effort. Munenori Kawasaki, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Ryan Goins had multiple hits. Brett Lawrie hit his second career grand slam and drove in a career-high five RBIs. Melky Cabrera singled and now has at least one hit in all 14 games this season.
"You're not always going to have 20 hits between one through nine guys, so I think it's just about picking each other up," Lawrie said. "When some guys don't get it done at the plate they're going to get it done in the field and vice-versa, just picking each other up. Doing the little things, getting guys over and scoring runs when we need to."
Toronto wasn't doing much of that in the early going on Tuesday night. The Blue Jays had the leadoff man reach base in each of the first four innings, but came away empty-handed every time. Hughes was able to get away with some of his mistakes by striking out seven batters through five innings, but his fortunes changed in the sixth.
Kawasaki led off the inning with a well-placed opposite-field double down the third-base line. Bautista followed with a sharp RBI single to center and Adam Lind then put runners on the corners with another single to center. Encarnacion and Dioner Navarro followed with a pair of singles while Moises Sierra and Lawrie added two more runs on a grounder and sacrifice fly.
Hughes was charged with four of the five runs on eight hits and one walk. He threw 60 of his 87 pitches for strikes and appeared to be closing in on his first victory in a Twins uniform until that sixth inning when he was unable to record an out. Hughes is now 5-7 with a 4.96 ERA in 28 career appearances against the Blue Jays, with all but one of those outings coming with the Yankees.
"It looked like the ball was coming out of his hand, but he didn't make any pitches," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I don't know how many they hit hard in a row on the screws. He was cruising before that. But then all of a sudden, it's four hits in a row. I don't know what happened. He just couldn't get a ball where he wanted."
Morrow battled some control problems early in the game and the ensuing high pitch count meant he was in store for a relatively short night. He went to a full count on seven batters, and before the end of the second inning the veteran right-hander had already thrown 59 pitches.
Despite the issues with command, Morrow still found a way to limit the damage and keep the Blue Jays within striking distance. The only runs he allowed came on a first-inning double by Chris Colabello and an RBI single by Joe Mauer in the second.
He left with two outs in the fourth inning and Toronto's notoriously strong bullpen was able to take it the rest of the way. Aaron Loup, Neil Wagner, Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar and Sergio Santos combined to pitch 5 1/3 innings, allowing one run to close out the Blue Jays' victory.
"They had guys on and some opportunities to do it but snuck my way out of a couple of situations and then the bullpen came in and just did a fantastic job," Morrow said. "Those guys were great. I thought the way we were putting guys on early in the game that we were going to score some runs. When I came out I knew two runs wasn't going to win this game and then the offense got hot, bullpen shut them down the rest of the way."