Twins blow past Detroit, 9-1, to sweep two-game set

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DETROIT — The past few weeks have been a little tumultuous for Twins right-hander Sonny Gray. Before last week’s all-star break, he lost his pitching coach and favorite catcher within a week.

But the veteran starter is getting his bearings, he said, and proved it on Sunday with a small masterpiece against the Detroit Tigers.

Gray held Detroit to a run on two hits and a walk over six innings, and seven Twins hitters drove in at least a run as Minnesota swept a two-game series with a 9-1 victory at Comerica Park.

Gray struck out seven Tigers batters while improving to 5-3 and lowering his earned-run average to 3.52

“It was fun, that was pretty much it,” Gray said. “I felt relaxed. I felt free and easy.”

It was a fun weekend for the Twins, who scored a combined 17 runs on 23 hits in their first two games back from an unusually long five-day all-star break. Gray spent three relaxing days at home with his family before returning to Minnesota for workouts and a bullpen session Thursday.

Handed a 3-0 lead before he touched the mound, Gray faced the minimum through three innings before allowing a run on Eric Haase’s two-out, seeing-eye single through short that made it 3-1. That was his only hiccup.

Gray last won a game on June 27, an 11-1 victory at Cleveland — the day former pitching coach Wes Johnson accepted the same job at Louisiana State. Four days later, Johnson was replaced by bullpen coach Pete Maki. Then Gray’s favorite catcher, Ryan Jeffers, was lost to a fractured thumb that will require six to eight weeks of rest before he can begin a rehab assignment.

But Gray and catcher Gary Sanchez began getting on the same page during a 12-2 loss to the Chicago White Sox on July 14, he said. It was Gray’s shortest stint of the season, 3⅔ innings, but he felt he was moving in the right direction.

That carried over into Sunday.

“I felt good,” Gray said. “I’m just feeling a little more comfortable with our situation moving forward than I have been, getting a little more comfortable with it lately. So, that’s a good thing.”

“Having a plan, sticking to the plan and then executing it is what I felt worked,” he added.

As they did in Saturday’s 8-4 victory, the Twins put the pressure on Detroit from the get-go, putting three on the board in the first against Rony Garcia (3-3). The right-hander left after 2⅔ innings with right shoulder soreness.

Sanchez and Jose Miranda each drove in a pair of runs, and Luis Arraez, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler and Gio Urshela each drove in one as the Twins increased their American League Central lead to three games over second-place Cleveland.

“These two games are just how you want to start the second half,” said Carlos Correa, who singled and scored a run when he slipped under Haase’s tag after Max Kepler’s grounder in the first. “Bats were on fire, really good at-bats all around. And you see our pitcher did a great job. So it’s a good start to the second half, for sure.”

Arraez went 1 for 3 with a walk and a run-scoring single in a three-run seventh and leads the major leagues with a .341 batting average. Miranda was 3 for 4 with two runs scored. He drove in a run when he was hit by a Garcia pitch with the bases loaded in the third, and added a run-scoring single off left fielder Kory Clemens in the ninth.

“Coming to Detroit and getting a couple games, scoring a bunch of runs, it feels pretty good,” Miranda said.

The Twins broke the game open with a three-run sixth off reliever Michael Fulmer. Miranda singled and scored on Urshela’s double into the left-field corner, and Urshela scored on a single by Arraez. Arraez went to second on an errant throw home and scored on Polanco’s sharp single to right field for a 6-1 lead.

Griffin Jax, Jharel Cotton and Joe Smith each pitched a scoreless inning for the Twins, who are off Monday and start a two-game series at Milwaukee on Tuesday.

“Flat out, we did what we wanted to do,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “We came in here and pushed the envelope a little bit in some ways but stayed within ourselves in some ways … hit balls good and forced their pitchers to throw strikes.”

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