By most accounts, Twins right-hander Phil Hughes had been one of baseball’s best pitchers in August leading up to Wednesday’s start against Kansas City.
Hughes was 4-0 with a 1.32 ERA in his first four starts this month, walking just two batters while striking out 30.
But on Wednesday night, Hughes was outdueled by a familiar face for Twins fans. Right-hander Liam Hendriks made his first start with the Royals as an injury substitution for Yordano Ventura. Hendriks was brilliant in his Kansas City debut. He took a perfect game into the fifth inning and allowed just one run in seven innings as he and the Royals beat his former team by a 6-1 final.
Though Hendriks didn’t get the victory — it would have been just his fourth major league win — he pitched well enough to keep the first-place Royals in the game late. Kansas City used a six-run eighth inning to come from behind for the win.
When all was said and done, the former Twin Hendriks was one of the big storylines of the game. He allowed just one run on four hits while striking out five against his old team — and received a Gatorade bath from his new teammates after the game.
"He came out and threw the ball fantastic," Kansas City third baseman Mike Moustakas said of Hendriks. "His first start for him with the Royals, and the way he threw the ball tonight, it was awesome to see him do that, especially for a team like us right now in the chase."
While Hughes matched Hendriks through seven innings, the Twins’ top starter fell apart in the eighth on a sequence of bloop hits, bunts, and a two-run triple. He entered the eighth inning with a 1-0 lead. By the time the inning was over, Kansas City scored six runs — four charged to Hughes, which equaled the total he’d allowed in all of August previously — en route to their second come-from-behind win in as many nights against the Twins.
The bats were key for the Royals in the eighth, but Hendriks played a pivotal role in Kansas City’s win. It was his fourth career appearance at Kauffman Stadium, and the seven-inning outing was his longest outing at the Royals’ ballpark. He was previously 0-2 with a 5.93 ERA in three starts there, all of which came with the Twins.
Before Hendriks landed with Kansas City via a trade in late July, he bounced around with several teams. He previously pitched in the Toronto Blue Jays’ organization but made just three starts with Toronto this year, allowing nine runs in 13 1/3 innings. In 23 combined minor-league games (21 starts) between the Blue Jays and Royals organizations, Hendriks was 12-2 with a 2.45 ERA.
After the 2013 season with the Twins, Hendriks was claimed off waivers by the Cubs. Just 10 days later, though, he was claimed once again, this time by the Baltimore Orioles.
Then, less than two months after that, he was claimed a third time in one offseason when the Blue Jays acquired him. Hendriks briefly called Toronto home, but now he’s hoping to help the Royals earn a playoff spot. Wednesday’s start could wind up being a big one for he and the Royals down the stretch.
The Australia native previously had similar success in the minors when he was with the Twins, but failed to translate those numbers to the big leagues. In parts of three seasons with Minnesota, Hendriks was just 2-13 with a 6.06 ERA in 30 games (28 starts). It took him 18 big-league starts before earning his first career victory, which came in 2012 with the Twins.
On Wednesday night, Hendriks looked much better than he did during most of his time with Minnesota. The only run he allowed came in the top of the seventh inning when Oswaldo Arcia’s double scored Kennys Vargas from first base for an early 1-0 Twins lead.
Aside from that, Hendriks kept Minnesota’s hitters in check. He didn’t allow a hit until Trevor Plouffe’s two-out double in the top of the fifth inning.
"He’s locating his fastball, he moved it in and out. He used a little breaking ball. He had a nice little changeup," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said of Hendriks. "It’s the same guy with the same pitches. He just located the ball. Obviously, he’s got some experience and he handled it very well. He pitched very good."
FOX Sports North’s Kevin Gorg contributed to this report.