The Minnesota Twins expect to welcome back right-hander Sonny Gray to the starting rotation when they host the Oakland Athletics on Saturday afternoon in Minneapolis.
Gray, 32, has been sidelined since April 16 because of right hamstring tightness. He is 0-1 with a 5.68 ERA in his first two starts with the Twins, who acquired him before the start of the season.
Minnesota has high hopes for Gray, who has an 82-73 career record with a 3.62 ERA as well as 1,226 strikeouts in 1,273 2/3 innings. Gray is 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA in two career starts against Oakland, the last coming in 2019.
The Twins have performed well despite Gray’s injury, winning 12 of their last 15 games to climb to the top of the American League Central standings.
A big reason for the Twins’ success has been the contributions of rookies and younger players. Jose Miranda hit his first career home run Friday in the Twins’ 2-1 win over the Athletics to open the three-game series, and Royce Lewis recorded his first career hit on a single to right field.
Twins interim manager Jayce Tingler said Miranda, Lewis and others helped strengthen the clubhouse chemistry. Tingler is in charge while manager Rocco Baldelli is out because of a positive COVID-19 test.
“It’s an absolute blast,” Tingler said. “I think what’s special about this team, and you kind of feel it in the clubhouse and you certainly feel it on the field and in the dugout, but I think what’s special is the way everybody pulls for everybody. You can definitely feel it, you can hear it.
“If it’s Royce, if it’s Miranda — some of the guys that have come up this year, they’ve all contributed and done a very good job.”
Oakland hopes to snap a seven-game losing streak. The Athletics have yet to win this month and are looking for their first victory since April 27 against the San Francisco Giants.
In the series opener against the Twins, Oakland loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth while trailing by a run. But the Athletics could not push the tying or winning run across, instead notching another loss after Twins reliever Emilio Pagan struck out Chad Pinder on a 3-2 count.
“I’m not panicking,” Pinder said. “I know no one else is. We’ve just got to keep working. It’s a young group.”
Oakland right-hander James Kaprielian (0-1, 18.00) is set to make his second start of the season. The UCLA product, who has never faced Minnesota, gave up four runs in two innings in his first outing Sunday against the Cleveland Guardians.
The Twins are not assuming a big day at the plate against the young pitcher. But they are more focused on pitching and defense as the season pushes into its second month.
“I think Rocco’s message, the first speech that he gave in spring training, he talked about the fundamentals and getting back to fundamental baseball,” Tingler said. “We’ve been preaching it, practicing it, living it, walking it — the pitching and the defense.
“Our guys are throwing the ball over the plate. We’re not giving up a lot of ‘free 90s.’ And then defensively, we’ve made some very good plays. We’ve done a good job of taking care of the ball, making our routine plays, making good decisions with the ball and then the way the outfielders are getting off the ball, we’re covering a lot of grass out there.”
–Field Level Media