MINNEAPOLIS The Twins on Wednesday were worried about facing last year's AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber. They also were worried about rain washing out their game and creating a crazy getaway day doubleheader.
Phil Hughes and Mother Nature had their backs.
Hughes stepped up with a strong outing. Half the game was played in the rain, but nothing more than a drizzle. So the Twins took advantage, knocking Kluber out of the game on the way to a 4-2 victory at Target Field. The Twins have won three consecutive games for the first time since Aug. 30-Sept. 2.
The victory enabled the Twins to creep within one game of Houston in the battle for the second AL wild-card playoff spot. The Astros blew a late lead on Wednesday and lost 6-5 to the Angels. But the Twins need that door to crack open a little more, and will go for a sweep of the Indians on Thursday before leaving a seven-game road trip.
Kluber entered the game with a 2-0 record and 1.38 ERA in three appearances against the Twins this season. That included a one-hitter he fired at the Twins on Aug. 14 at Target Field. But Kluber missed nearly three weeks after that because of a hamstring strain, and was making only his second start since recovering.
He looked like the defending Cy Young winner the first time through the order, holding the Twins to one hit. But he started getting the ball up the second time through the order and no longer was menacing.
In the fourth inning, Brian Dozier got hold of an up-and-away pitch and hit it over the right-field wall for his first home run since Sept. 6. It also was the only of his 75 career home runs to be hit to right field.
Joe Mauer followed with a double to left-center. Miguel Sano walked. Then Trevor Plouffe delivered an RBI double to right to make it 2-0. With one out, Kluber hit Torii Hunter on the left arm with a pitch, and Hunter had words for Kluber as he walked to first base. Nothing escalated, and Hunter had an escort in home plate umpire Dan Bellino.
Two batters later, Eduardo Escobar stroked a two-run single to right. The Twins led 4-0 and had matched the amount of runs they scored off Kluber over their first three meetings.
Hughes was making his third appearance and second start since recovering from a sore back. He took the lead and ran with it for five innings, holding the Indians to four hits while striking out four. His breaking ball was noticeably sharper and he was ahead in the count more than his past two outings. He got out of the second and fourth innings by inducing ground-ball double plays, and the hardest-hit ball off him was Yan Gomes' double to the left-center fence in the fifth. Hughes threw 66 pitches, one more than he did in his start on Sept. 15.
Twins manager Paul Molitor named his rotation for the weekend series in Detroit, going with Mike Pelfrey on Friday, Tyler Duffey on Saturday and Ervin Santana on Sunday. But he added that things could change if Hughes had a rough outing on Wednesday. But Hughes flashing some of his 2014 form is a huge shot in the arm to a rotation that is trying to stabilize as the Twins fight for that final wild-card spot. It was only the second time all season that Hughes has had a scoreless outing.
(c)2015 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Visit the Star Tribune (Minneapolis) at www.startribune.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.