MINNEAPOLIS -- It's not often that one pitch in the third inning can radically change the course of a game. But when that one pitch sidelines a pitcher who was dominating the game, it can happen, and it happened to the Tigers at the worst possible time on Saturday.
Phil Hughes threw seven strong innings, and the Twins took advantage of an injury to Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez in a 5-3 win at Target Field.
The Tigers had the upper hand early, with a 2-0 lead and Sanchez cruising into the third inning. But Sanchez developed a blister on his right middle finger and had to leave the game with two outs in the third.
"It looked nasty. As soon as I went out there and saw it, I was caught between throwing up and pulling him out of the game," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said. "As soon as I saw it, I knew he couldn't pitch. It wasn't like, 'Could you make it through the rest of the inning?' I'm surprised he threw another pitch."
The injury forced Ausmus to turn to his overworked bullpen even earlier than usual, with disappointing results. Jose Ortega -- called up from Triple-A Toledo on Saturday morning -- faced nine batters, walking four and hitting one. The Twins rallied for four runs in the fifth on five walks, an error and one base hit, their first of the game.
Ortega (0-1) was called up Saturday in part because the bullpen needed a fresh arm. Tigers relievers have thrown 22 innings in the last seven days and Ausmus was at a loss for what to do next.
"I didn't want to use [Ian] Krol, but we could have," Ausmus said. "I didn't want to use Joba [Chamberlain], but we could have, and he started to just kind of toss there at the end in case we tied it. I certainly wasn't going to use Joe [Nathan] unless we got a lead. I didn't want to use [Evan] Reed. I used everybody that I could have used. ... Half of our pen, I basically wanted to stay away from."
After Ortega struggled, Phil Coke walked in a run and allowed a two-run single to Trevor Plouffe, but after he walked Chris Colabello to reload the bases -- still with nobody out -- he finally restored order by striking out Jason Kubel and getting Josmil Pinto to hit into a double play.
"We're just trying to make the pitchers work," Plouffe said. "There's the old saying, 'You're not going to hit a three-run homer with nobody on base.' So we're just going up there trying to keep the line moving, and we did that today."
Coke did bail out the bullpen by throwing two more scoreless innings, allowing Ausmus to breathe a little easier regarding the state of his bullpen going forward.
Though the Tigers couldn't get much going against Hughes, they did make things interesting again in the eighth against reliever Jared Burton. A walk and two singles loaded the bases with one out, but Miguel Cabrera grounded into a double play to end the threat.
"We couldn't draw it up any better, having Miggy up with the bases loaded, but he can't be the hero every single day," Ausmus said.
Hughes held Detroit to two runs (one earned) on four hits with no walks and six strikeouts. The Tigers' only run-scoring rally came in the first inning, and it was ignited with a single by Torii Hunter, who has worn out his ex-teammates with six hits in the first two games of the series.
Cabrera doubled home a run and Victor Martinez delivered him with a sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead. But that was the start of a string of 16 consecutive batters retired by Hughes (2-1). Hunter broke the streak with a two-out double in the sixth, and Austin Jackson singled and stole a base in the seventh, but Hughes stranded both runners at second base.
"He threw first-pitch strikes from the get-go. We scored those two runs, but he was still pounding the strike zone," Ausmus said. "He's got good ride on his fastball, he gets guys to swing and miss, he uses his cutter and curveball effective. So he pitched well for them."
Pinto gave the Twins an insurance run with a towering solo homer into the second deck in left in the eighth, but Martinez launched a solo shot of his own in the ninth. It was his fourth home run of the season.
After surrendering the homer and a double to Jackson, closer Glen Perkins retired the side for his sixth save.
Patrick Donnelly is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.