FORT MYERS, FLA. – Sonny Gray pitched three hitless innings to help beat Boston on Sunday, then all but vowed it would be the last time this year that he does that.
Not the hitless part. The knock-off-early part.
"I don't think we're interested in going four innings and being happy. I feel like we had a group last year that was pretty content with going four innings, [where] four innings and five innings is considered a good start," Gray said of the Twins' 2022 rotation, which had 110 starts that lasted five innings or fewer, more than any other MLB team. "I disagreed with that then. I disagree with that now, but I feel like just the guys we have aren't content with it either, which is what you want as a rotation."
Gray himself threw a pitch in the sixth inning or later in only nine of his 24 starts last season, after the shortened spring training gave him too little time to prepare for the season. That's completely different this year, Gray said, and he's ready to shoulder a more normal burden.
"My stuff is good. Filling up the zone with all pitches is important, just filling up the zone and attacking guys," Gray said after striking out four Boston hitters and finishing spring training with a 1.86 ERA in four starts. "I feel like my put-away pitches, my two-strike pitches, are in a much better spot than they have been in a couple years."
He's eager to see what the rest of the rotation can do, too.
"The potential is — obviously, you can see it. We'll see how it all shakes out. I do know that everybody wants it, especially after last year," Gray said. "You want to build off each other. You don't want to go out there and throw four innings and walk away happy about it."
Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said he liked Gray's spirit, his eagerness to pitch well, though "it's my job to decide when they pitch, how long they pitch and how we win the games." Still, the manager said, "Sonny is a tremendous competitor and I want our guys to always want to be out there and get the next out."
Ober, Coulombe cut
At least Bailey Ober doesn't have to wonder if he would still be on the roster if he hadn't given up his first runs of the spring Saturday. Danny Coulombe didn't give up a run all spring, and he didn't make the team, either.
Ober, Coulombe and Aaron Sanchez were all reassigned to minor league camp Sunday, leaving 13 healthy pitchers on the roster — essentially, the team's Opening Day pitching staff. Cole Sands, a starter throughout his minor league career, is one of them, taking on a bullpen assignment that will give Baldelli a multi-inning option in relief of the five-man starting staff.
"We knew we were going to need a guy that can do more than [one-inning appearances], and he's going to be one of those guys for us," Baldelli said. "He went out there and won the spot."
The Twins also reassigned outfielder Kyle Garlick to their minor league camp. Garlick, who has hit 14 home runs in 102 games for Minnesota over the past two seasons, has batted only .207 with no walks and 12 strikeouts this spring.
It's a huge disappointment for Ober, who hadn't given up a hit this spring until Saturday's 9-4 loss to Atlanta, but it's one he said he was prepared for. The 27-year-old righthander lost his rotation spot when the Twins traded for Opening Day starter Pablo Lopez, giving Baldelli five established, veteran starters for the rotation.
Coulombe, too, was a revelation this spring, returning from a labrum tear in his hip to pitch nine scoreless innings in relief. But the lefthander was also a victim of numbers; the bullpen already includes a pair of lefthanders, Caleb Thielbar and Jovani Moran.
Sanchez, an eight-year veteran and former All-Star while with Toronto in 2016, was much less effective this spring, allowing 15 runs in 8⅔ innings. The righthander made three starts for the Twins last season, and likely will pitch at Class AAA St. Paul until he's needed again.
The reassignments leave the Twins with this pitching staff: Lopez, Gray, Kenta Maeda, Joe Ryan and Tyler Mahle in the rotation, all righthanders, and Sands, Jhoan Duran, Griffin Jax, Emilio Pagan, Jorge Alcala and Jorge Lopez joining lefthanders Thielbar and Moran.
Pitchers Chris Paddack (elbow surgery), Josh Winder (shoulder) and Ronny Henriquez (elbow) will open the season on the injured list.
Twins top Red Sox
Ryan Jeffers, Willi Castro and Hernan Perez all homered Sunday and the Twins won the spring series against their Lee County neighbors with a 7-2 victory over the Red Sox at JetBlue Park.
Alcala pitched two shutout innings and Duran one in their spring finales.
Jeffers connected off veteran lefthander Chris Sale, helping the Twins beat Boston for the third time in five meetings this spring. Castro, who learned Saturday that he will likely make the Twins' 26-man roster, added a two-run blast of his own. Perez, a utility man who has appeared in part of 10 major league seasons for four teams and who signed with the Twins 10 days ago, connected on his 32nd birthday.