NEW YORK (AP) — Former Yankee Phil Hughes threw eight poised innings in his return to the Bronx and wound up a winner when the Minnesota Twins rallied past the Yankees 7-2 behind big hits from Josh Willingham and Brian Dozier in a six-run ninth. The rally, against New York closer David Robertson, denied Yankee rookie Chase Whitley his first major league victory.
The Ranburne native started and pitched five strong innings for New York, allowing five hits and one run. He struck out six without walking a batter and lowered his earned run average to 2.37. Whitley, who had chided himself for looking too far ahead in his most recent start in St. Louis on Monday, pitched out of two-on, none-out trouble in the second when he struck out Jason Kubel and got ground balls from Kurt Suzuki and Eduardo Escobar.
“Just looking at it, I got myself in trouble there in the second but made some pitches, executed the plan I wanted to do to get the strikeout and then to get some weak contact,” Whitley said.
In the Minnesota third, a two-out single by Trevor Plouffe scored Aaron Hicks, who had opened the inning with a base hit, for a 1-0 Twins lead but Whitley fielded cleanly a ball tapped back to the mound to end the inning.
“Then to minimize the damage in the third, that’s an area I’m trying to improve on and get better. I was telling someone the other day how important it is to not give up the crooked number,” Whitley added.
“Moving on to the fourth and fifth, I felt like I was getting stronger. The fourth was good and the fifth was good, too,” Whitley noted.
In the fourth, the big right-hander fanned three Twins around a harmless two-out infield single.
All three of New York’s hits against Hughes came in the bottom of the fourth. Brett Gardner tripled to start a two-run rally and Derek Jeter’s single scored Gardner. Jacoby Ellsbury added a single and Brian McCann walked to load the bases with no one away. After an infield fly produced the first out, Jeter came home on Ichiro Suzuki’s sacrifice fly to center and the Yankees led 2-1.
With a lead, Whitley opened the fifth with a strikeout and a ground out to third. Joe Mauer then smoked a single back through the box and into center but Plouffe hit a routine fly ball to right for the final out. When New York did not score in the fifth, Yankees manager Joe Girardi went to his bullpen. Whitley, a reliever converting to a starting role this year, threw 83 pitches.
Dellin Betances pitched two scoreless innings and Adam Warren one ahead of Robertson. Robertson was charged with five runs in two-thirds of an inning. He was booed off the mound after his second blown save in 14 chances since taking over as closer for Mariano Rivera.
"I just made some big mistakes and it cost us the game," Robertson said. "I stunk today, what can I say? ... I'm itching to get out there to prove I can still do this."
“You can’t go wrong with bringing in what we brought in behind me,” Whitley said. “I know we had a rough day in the ninth but he’s going to succeed more often than he doesn’t.”
Whitley is scheduled to make his fifth start for the Yankees, and fourth away from Yankee Stadium, Friday when New York opens a 10-game road trip in Kansas City.
Willingham belted a tying homer on the first pitch from Robertson. Robertson (0-2) then walked two batters and gave up Dozier's two-out double, putting the Twins on top 3-2.
Eduardo Nunez, also let go by the Yankees, lined a two-run double on Matt Daley's first pitch. Oswaldo Arcia added a two-run single off Matt Thornton to make it 7-2, all but sealing Minnesota's second victory in the three-game series.
Hughes (6-1) retired his final 15 batters during his sixth straight win.
"I don't think it means more than any other start," he said.
"A little bit more nerves than usual, but thankfully I was throwing strikes early and was able to make some pitches," Hughes explained. "Obviously, it was a half-inning away from being a different story, but the guys rallied there in the ninth and it was a solid win for us."
Hughes never quite lived up to lofty expectations in New York, though he did make his mark during seven seasons in pinstripes. He was a key member of the bullpen in 2009, helping the Yankees to a World Series championship, and made the All-Star team while winning 18 games the following year.
He faded to 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA last season, struggling with the homer-friendly dimensions at Yankee Stadium. With the second-highest fly ball ratio among major league starters, he went 1-10 with a 6.32 ERA at home.
"He didn't need too much real estate here today," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said.
Minnesota, which plays at pitcher-friendly Target Field, signed Hughes to a $24 million, three-year contract in December, and he's off to a terrific start with his new team. He was 5-0 with a 1.94 ERA in his previous seven starts, and acknowledged Friday there would be "some weird at-bats" when he faced his former teammates.
"We all know how big this is for him," Gardenhire said before the game.
Hughes came right after the Yankees with 91-94 mph fastballs and cutters. He faced the minimum through three innings and only had trouble in the fourth.
"He never stopped attacking," Gardenhire said.
Hughes struck out six and walked two, throwing 72 of 100 pitches for strikes against a lineup missing injured sluggers Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran.
"These are the guys we have and they've got to find a way to get it done," Girardi said.
Star correspondant Rip Donovan added reporting.