Twins pitcher Phil Hughes was hoping to pick up his first career big-league hit Wednesday against San Diego.
After going hitless at the plate, Hughes will instead have to settle for his fifth win of the year.
Hughes continued the impressive roll he’s been on with Minnesota over the last month, tossing seven scoreless innings to stymie the Padres as the Twins won 2-0 at Petco Park. With the victory, Hughes improved to 5-1 in his first year with Minnesota, surpassing his win total from the entire 2013 season with the New York Yankees when he went 4-14.
Oh, and it’s not even June yet.
"He’s comfortable right now, and he’s comfortable pitching with this team," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "He’s nice and relaxed out there and he’s attacking the zone."
For the fifth straight start, Hughes did not walk a batter. His walk-free streak was extended to 147 consecutive batters after he faced 28 Padres hitters in Wednesday’s outing without issuing a free pass. The last time he walked a batter was April 20, more than a month ago.
Hughes allowed seven hits in his seven innings of work but all seven of them were singles. And by avoiding walks, he limited the damage. He rarely got into trouble Wednesday, but did so in the third inning after a pair of two-out singles by Seth Smith and Chase Headley. But Hughes got Yonder Alonso to fly out to center field to end the Padres’ minor threat.
After a flawless fifth inning, Hughes ran into a bit more trouble in the sixth when Headley reached third base with just one out. But Hughes capped an eight-pitch at-bat to Will Venable with a strikeout and got Cameron Maybin to ground out to strand Headley on the base paths and keep San Diego scoreless.
"You’ve got a one-run lead and you’ve got that guy standing there. Your pitcher has to attack the strike zone," Gardenhire said. "I think he stayed with his pitches. He threw one breaking ball in the sequence, I think. Other than that, he just kept pounding it in there and went at him. He won the battle."
Hughes set the Padres down in order in the seventh inning and exited the game with a 1-0 lead. Yet, despite the fact that he was cruising and had thrown just 94 pitches, Gardenhire opted to lift his starter in favor of reliever Casey Fien. Minnesota’s bullpen of Fien and closer Glen Perkins shut the door on San Diego to help Hughes earn his fifth win of the year.
Having now gone five straight starts and 147 straight batters without a walk, Hughes’ streak is the longest by a Twins pitcher since Carlos Silva went 155 batters between walks during the 2005 season. Also in 2005, right-hander Brad Radke had a span of 191 batters faced without a walk.
Gardenhire managed both of those pitchers back then, and he sees some similarities between that duo and Hughes.
"Those guys were control pitchers, both of them. Neither one of them were power guys," Gardenhire said. "Silva was the same thing as that guy out there — sinker inside and outside, a little slider, sometimes a curveball. But the same pitcher as Hughesy. (Radke) didn’t walk anybody and didn’t strike out a lot, but he got people out."
Hughes has allowed just four earned runs over his last five starts, during which he’s walked zero batters and struck out 27 — including seven Padres batters Wednesday — and is 4-0 in that stretch. Over his last five starts, Hughes’ ERA is an impressive 1.60.
On Wednesday, another strong outing from Hughes played a big part in the Twins improving to two games above .500 for the first time all season.
"He’s been great," said third baseman Trevor Plouffe, who hit a solo homer in the 2-0 win. "We look forward to more of that this year."
FOX Sports North’s Jamie Hersch contributed to this report.