SEATTLE — Before Sonny Gray's first start in nearly three weeks Wednesday, Rocco Baldelli searched for a way to describe the intensity that the veteran right-hander brings to each game he pitches.
"If the scale is [zero] to Rich Hill, which is how I would probably measure that, yes, Sonny is pretty high on that list," the manager said, invoking another grunt-with-each-pitch veteran. "That's a real ability, to be able to [channel extreme intensity] and then return to being a normal human being soon after."
Perhaps it's oxymoronic, but Gray was his usual not-normal self on Wednesday, limiting the Mariners to three hits and no runs over five innings as the Twins clinched the season series over Seattle with a 5-0 victory at T-Mobile Park. More importantly, combined with Joe Ryan's encouraging, if unsuccessful, start a day earlier, the Twins have relaunched their starting rotation after almost a month of injury-and-illness uncertainty.
"Getting these guys back is big for us," Baldelli said. "Our guys did a good job holding things together" while Ryan recovered from COVID and Gray from a strained right pectoral muscle, "but we can use the help."
Especially if the offense continues to be a spigot that turns on and off so abruptly. The Twins scored 20 runs in Toronto, 19 against the Yankees and 15 against the Rays in their last three series. But they managed only eight in taking two of three games in Seattle, and the series included a 17-inning scoreless streak that ended too late to earn Gray his fourth victory of the season.
Still, Gray has yet to allow more than two runs in any of his eight starts this year, a streak that breaks Jim Kaat's 1972 season and John Butcher's 1984 start for the most consecutive games of two or less to start a season.
Just as they did Tuesday night in getting shut out for the ninth time this year, the Twins barely threatened for much of the game, only putting a runner in scoring position once in the first six innings against Mariners left-hander Marco Gonzalez, that a two-out fifth-inning double by Ryan Jeffers that amounted to nothing.
But Jeffers came through again in the seventh, after Gonzales gave up a one-out single to Gary Sanchez and walked Luis Arraez. Jose Miranda hit what looked like an inning-ending double play, but beat the relay from Adam Frazier to keep the inning alive. Jeffers took advantage with a solid single to left, giving him his first two-hit game since May 16.
The Twins added four more against the Seattle bullpen, with Carlos Correa doubling home Gilberto Celestino, who scored from first on a close play at the plate, and a two-run single by Arraez. Jeffers walked in the ninth inning and scored the Twins' final run on Celestino's ground out.