Sonny Gray was fully aware of the solid start the Minnesota Twins needed from him, with injuries piling up on their pitching staff.
He delivered a gem, showing just why the Twins were willing to part with their most recent first-round draft pick to get him.
Gray struck out a season-high 10 over seven sharp innings, carrying the Twins past the Detroit Tigers 2-0 on Tuesday night for their sixth straight victory.
“He knew that this was something that we were all desiring right now from him, and it seemed to kind of fire him up and allow him to focus,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “You can see that at times being a lot to handle, when you know your team really needs you for something like that. I think he eats it up.”
Gray (2-1) allowed four hits and one walk in by far his best of six starts with his new team. The Twins, who are 23-8 since April 21, have won each of the last four games with Gray on the mound after he returned from a strained hamstring.
“I just feel like myself,” said Gray, acquired from Cincinnati in March for right-hander Chase Petty, a 19-year-old who was the 26th overall pick in the 2021 draft.
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The Twins have surged out in front of the AL Central this season on the strength of their rotation depth, an improvement jump-started by the trade for Gray. They have eight pitchers currently on the injured list, and earlier this month they lost starter Chris Paddack for the year and more to Tommy John surgery.
“The fans have been great. Everyone in that clubhouse feels like brothers," Gray said. “Yeah, it’s feeling more and more like home.”
Gio Urshela had three hits and an RBI, and Carlos Correa hit a run-scoring double against Tigers rookie Beau Brieske (0-4), who remains winless in six career starts. Detroit dropped to 3-15 in its last 18 games at Target Field.
Max Kepler scored from first on Urshela's two-out single in the second inning, when third base coach Tommy Watkins opportunistically watched shortstop Javier Báez direct left fielder Willi Castro to send his relay throw to second base without looking at Kepler as he rounded third.
That's all Gray needed. He turned the game over to Tyler Duffey in the eighth, and Jhoan Duran worked the ninth for his fourth save.
"We didn't react to his spin. We didn't respond to the fastball. He had his way with us," Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said, after lamenting the sixth-inning stranding of Jonathan Schoop after he reached second base with none out.
Twins center fielder Byron Buxton made a vintage leaping catch as he fully extended following a long sprint to grab a line drive as he landed at the warning track to take an extra-base hit away from Jeimer Candelario in the fourth inning. Gray raised both arms to celebrate Buxton's snag.
“Plays like that are what can keep a starter in the game,” Gray said. “That’s just what he does, though. We’re so spoiled.”
Brieske needed 90 pitches to finish four innings, with six hits and one walk allowed. The Tigers have five starting pitchers on the injured list — Tyler Alexander, Matt Manning, Casey Mize, Michael Pineda and Eduardo Rodriguez — and another one, Spencer Turnbull, who's been out since last year.
The Tigers have bumped right-hander Michael Fulmer back in the bullpen pecking order while he works through some struggles.
“I told him I’m not going to lose faith in him,” Hinch said before the game.
Fulmer struck out the side in the seventh. In his five previous appearances, he gave up eight hits, six runs and six walks over five innings.
Tigers: Manning (shoulder inflammation) was pulled with two outs in the second inning from his rehab start with Triple-A Toledo after 43 pitches. He gave up two hits and two walks.
Tigers: Rony García (0-0, 2.57 ERA) is scheduled to be the team's 12th starting pitcher this season, to be followed Wednesday afternoon by several fellow relievers. García entered the picture when the Tigers decided to give Tarik Skubal an extra day to rest a bruised shin. With steady rain in the forecast, though, the bullpen game might not be necessary.
Twins: RHP Dylan Bundy (3-2, 5.14 ERA) is on track to make his seventh start of the season in his careful return from COVID-19. Bundy threw 54 pitches over three scoreless innings on May 17, his first outing after a 13-day layoff.