CHICAGO — Phil Hughes found his old form after getting plenty of help in the first inning.
Hughes pitched six strong innings for his first win in almost a year and the Minnesota Twins beat the Chicago White Sox 3-1 on Friday night for their first 4-0 start since 1987.
Miguel Sano hit an RBI go-ahead double in the sixth, and Chris Gimenez added an RBI double in the seventh for the Twins, who led the majors with 103 losses last season after opening 0-9.
“To be 4-0 is a big step in the right direction,” Hughes said. “For me, personally, I feel like last year was tough, physically and mentally, to get through that, so I’m happy to start this year off on a good note.”
Hughes (1-0) made his first start since June 9, 2016, and allowed one run and five hits, struck out three and walked none. The right-hander’s season was cut short last year after he suffered a broken bone above his left knee and underwent surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome. Hughes last won in a rain-shortened game on April 18, 2016, against Milwaukee. He was 1-7 last season.
But Hughes’ 2017 debut might have been short-lived if not for center fielder Byron Buxton.
Buxton made a pair of long running warning-track catches in the first inning. He robbed leadoff hitter Tyler Saladino of extra bases with a catch against the wall. With runners on first and second, Buxton robbed Cody Asche of extra bases to end the inning.
“That was a game saver there in the first,” Hughes said. “A couple of incredible catches today and make that inning not as bad as it could have been. That was probably the turning point there. Fortunately, I was able to settle in and make some better pitches after the first.”
The vibe is already different for Hughes and the Twins.
“Especially with the start we’ve gotten off the last few years,” he said.
In the fifth, Max Kepler made a diving catch on the right-field foul line to save a potential extra-base hit by Tim Anderson.
Tyler Duffey pitched two scoreless innings of relief, and Brandon Kintzler pitched a scoreless ninth for his second save. Kintzler ran into trouble with two outs in the ninth after consecutive two-out walks, but retired Jacob May to end the game.
The Twins bullpen has not allowed a run in 13 innings this season.
After eight seasons with the Rangers, Derek Holland (0-1) made his White Sox debut and pitched six-plus innings, allowing three runs – two earned – and four hits. He struck out five and walked one with a hit batter.
“It was a good first start, way to get things going. I’m glad it’s over with, too, the first start with a new team,” Holland said.
Sano cut the right-center gap with an RBI double to score Robbie Grossman from first in the sixth to give the Twins a 2-1 lead.
Holland has lost his last four decisions. He exited after a leadoff walk in the sixth inning for Nate Jones, who was greeted by Gimenez with a ground-rule double to left.
Trailing 1-0, the Twins took advantage of two errors by the White Sox in the fourth inning. Grossman doubled to right and advanced to third on an errant pickoff attempt to second by Holland. Grossman then scored when right fielder Avisail Garcia dropped Sano’s pop up.
Anderson singled, stole second and scored on Jose Abreu’s single in the first inning.
REBOUNDING ON THE ROAD
Twins manager Paul Molitor has an idea of what it will take for the Twin to be more productive on the road this season.
“It’s just about everything we worked on in spring. I don’t care if we’re in Chicago or … It doesn’t matter,” he said. “We’ve got to pitch better and catch the ball better and compete better in the (batter’s) box, all those things we’re trying to get these younger plays to understand that allow you to hopefully corner some kind of consistency to your game.”
FUTURE MLB STAR?
White Sox INF Yoan Moncada had four hits for Triple-A Charlotte on Friday night after collecting three in his debut Thursday. White Sox manager Rick Renteria won’t get carried away, though, despite Moncada’s early success. “I’m glad that he’s moving forward. I think for me to start thinking that far ahead wouldn’t be prudent. I think it doesn’t serve me in any way, shape or form at this particular time with what we’re trying to do with the guys that are here,” said Renteria. Moncada was the major piece in the Chris Sale trade and is ranked by many as a top five-prospect.
Twins: LHP Ryan O’Rourke is still working out the inflammation in his elbow before he begins a throwing program. O’Rourke is dealing with a strained left elbow. He’s eligible to return April 9, but it doesn’t sound as though he’ll be able to return next week. He will likely need to spend some time on a minor-league rehab assignment before he returns.
Twins: RHP Adalberto Mejia, 23, will make his first career start on Saturday. He made five relief appearances and started one game in the spring for the Twins. He allowed three runs in 14 1/3 innings. Mejia appeared in one game for the Twins in 2016.
White Sox: RHP Miguel Gonzalez is scheduled to make his first start of the season on Saturday. He was 0-1 in the spring with a 4.32 ERA in three games. He was 5-8 with a 3.73 ERA last season.