WASHINGTON (AP) - Phil Hughes had just given up two first-inning runs. Though disappointed, the Twins right-hander was confident Minnesota could make up the deficit.
Tanner Roark and the Washington Nationals had other ideas.
Washington made its early salvo stand up, and the Twins struck out 18 times Saturday in a 2-0 loss.
Roark (2-2) had a career-high 15 strikeouts and allowed only two hits over seven innings. A trio of relievers followed, pitching every bit as effectively in completing the two-hitter.
“It’s frustrating,” manager Paul Molitor said. “We didn’t have a lot of opportunities.”
Hughes (1-3) gave up two runs and six hits in seven innings. Half the hits he allowed came in the pivotal first inning, when Washington got a two-run single from Ryan Zimmerman.
“At the time you’re thinking, ‘It’s just two runs, we can hopefully we can find a way to bounce back,’” Hughes said. “But that wasn’t the case today.”
Hughes worked out of a couple of jams before departing but was solid in lowering his ERA from 4.42 to 3.91.
“Phil settled down and did a real nice job of completing his outing,” Molitor said. “He did everything he could to give us a chance.”
The Twins’ lone hits were a first-inning single by Joe Mauer and double by Max Kepler in the second. The defeat dropped the Twins to an AL-worst 5-13.
“Roark had a good day,” Molitor said. “He hasn’t pitched poorly, but he hasn’t pitched great until today. The strikeouts were partly him, partly us. That’s a big number, no matter who’s out there.”
Roark acknowledged that he never felt so sharp on the mound, and the numbers backed up the assessment.
He threw a career-high 121 pitches, 78 of them strikes. He walked three, got all but six outs via strikeouts and held the Twins hitless over his final five innings. The 15 Ks were five more than he totaled in his first three starts.
“I was throwing four pitches to lefties and righties,” Roark said. “Keeping them guessing, uncomfortable at the plate.”
Roark came with a career record of 27-20, yet he sure looked better than that.
“On a given day, anybody can be world beater. Today was Tanner’s day to do that,” Nationals pitching coach Mike Maddux said. “Just to have that special moment.”
The 18 strikeouts were the most by Washington since its arrival from Montreal in 2005.
Jonathan Papelbon got three outs to complete the combined two-hitter and earn his seventh save.
Bryce Harper had a pair of doubles for the Nationals, whose 13-4 start matches the 1981 Expos and 2012 Nats for the best in franchise history.
Twins: Leadoff hitter Brian Dozier came in batting .188 with a mediocre .278 OBP. He went 0 for 3 with two strikeouts and a walk.
Twins: RHP Ervin Santana has been scratched from his scheduled start Sunday with a sore lower back, an injury that occurred during batting practice on Friday, assistant GM Rob Antony said. After the game, the Twins recalled RHP Tyler Duffey from Triple-A Rochester to start Sunday and optioned INF Jorge Polanco to Rochester.
Nationals: RHP Joe Ross (blister) still hopes to make his next scheduled start Tuesday. Baker, who watched Ross test the injury Friday, said, “I don’t know if he could throw a full game like that. There’s skin over it but it looks kind of like an open wound where they shaved the callus off.”
Twins: Duffey went 5-1 in 10 games as a rookie last year.
Nationals: Stephen Strasburg (3-0, 1.25 ERA) seeks to go 4-0 for the first time. It will be his first career start against the Twins.
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