Sonny Gray finally feels like himself.
So his identity, apparently, is a starting pitcher who can give his team seven scoreless innings with the bullpen a little thin and stack up 10 strikeouts along the way.
Gray collected his second win in as many starts, leading the Twins to a 2-0 win Tuesday night against Detroit and their sixth consecutive victory. He allowed only four hits and one walk in front of the announced Target Field crowd of 17,882 fans and boosted the Twins to a 27-16 record. That puts the Twins at a 5 1⁄2 -game distance from the rest of the American League Central, including the 14-28 Tigers.
The pitcher wasn't satisfied with how he introduced himself to his new team, though he had plenty of valid reasons for why his performance lagged. He came to the Twins in a trade from Cincinnati early in spring camp, which was already delayed and shortened because of the lockout. He pitched in only two games before going on the injured list because of a hamstring issue.
"At the beginning, I maybe pitched in one spring training game, and I didn't feel like myself at the beginning," Gray said. "But since coming off, I've just felt normal. It just feels like the field is your playground. You just go out there, and you just play."
Gray became only the second Twins starter, after Joe Ryan, to complete seven innings this season. And in the four games he's started since he came off the IL, the Twins have won each time.
The Twins intended for Gray to be their ace and Opening Day starter, though Ryan ended up earning the first start to give Gray a few extra days to stretch out before he started his season. The 32-year-old seems to finally be settling in to his new team.
"He's in a really nice rhythm right now," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "The ball's coming out phenomenally. I think he's got a good feel for all of his pitches. He goes out there, throws a lot of fastballs, a lot of those two-seamers, but he knows what he's doing with those pitches. It's not like he's just out there throwing fastballs blindly. He has a very good ability to manipulate and key off of what hitters are doing."
Tyler Duffey and Jhoan Duran pitched the final two innings out of the bullpen and maintained the shutout. Duffey said Gray set the tone that he and Duran felt compelled to keep going.
"Honestly, we kind of feed off of it when you see a guy like that wanting to go out there, wanting the ball back, wanting to keep going," Duffey said. "… For offenses, sometimes, it's a breath of fresh air, too, to know that they scored two, and that's enough. That's something that good teams who win a lot of games [do]."
Offensively, the Twins chased Detroit starter Beau Brieske from the game after four innings, in which he gave up six hits and two runs. Gio Urshela drove in the first run in the second inning — scoring Max Kepler from first base on a single to left — and Carlos Correa's RBI double in the third doubled the Twins' lead.
Both Duffey and Baldelli mentioned how cerebral and intense Gray can be on the mound. He's very calculated about what pitch he throws when, and he's thoroughly locked in with each and every batter he faces. And that's helped all the Twins pitchers learn, whenever professor Gray has the ball.
But while it might not have looked like it, Gray himself said his outings aren't all serious business. They actually remind him more of tossing the ball back and forth with his sons, 7-year-old Gunnar and 3-year-old Declan.
"It's just like you play with your kids in the backyard. It's the same thing," Gray said. "You just go out there, and you just play, and you just have fun, and you just let it go. Let everything else go and just go and see what happens, and it's great.
"It's fun to do that."