Twins pitcher Sonny Gray says speeding up his pace has improved his accuracy

Megan Ryan

By Megan Ryan

Sonny Gray has until next season before he and every other MLB pitcher has to contend with the pitch clock, but he’s already begun the process of speeding up his delivery.

The starter went seven scoreless innings in Wednesday’s victory against the Royals but attributed part of his three-hit outing to learning from his other starters, including Louie Varland, who spot-started one of the doubleheader games in New York last week.

Varland’s time between pitches was 8.1 seconds, whereas Gray averages 11.8 seconds, per Baseball Savant. Both are well within the pitch clock coming into play in 2023, where pitchers will have 15 seconds with no runners on and 20 with them on to throw the ball.

“I just try to take a little bit from everyone that’s here,” Gray said. “… Get the ball back, make a pitch, get the ball back, make a pitch. My agent came three or four starts ago and told me I’m working too slow. So then it’s been a focus of, like, ‘OK, let’s pick up the pace a little bit.’ And I do feel like it’s helped me throw strikes.”

Gray threw 70% strikes in his 91 pitches Wednesday, striking out eight batters. Joe Ryan, who pitched seven no-hit innings Tuesday, averages 10.5 seconds between pitches. He’s been watching Gray’s bullpens — all the starters make an effort to watch each other to help everyone improve — and said he’s noticed Gray paying special attention to his pacing and then implementing that into games.

Most of the Twins’ pitchers already are within the pitch clock limits. Those who have taken more time mostly don’t have a full season of work to analyze since they’ve been out with injuries. Of those who have played the majority of the season, Emilio Pagan takes 17.4 seconds without runners and 20.6 seconds with runners. Jhoan Duran is fine with the bases empty but is at 21.2 seconds once a runner appears.

The relievers have an offseason to make the adjustments, though. The fact that Gray is starting that process now says a lot to Twins manager Rocco Baldelli.

“It’s not something that I think you’re going to hear from every guy that has the amount of time on a major league field that Sonny Gray has. There is a humbleness to making a statement like that,” Baldelli said. “… He has a pretty deep, burning desire to be good at what he does. He’s had it his entire life. He continues to show it, and I think him having an observation like that and then being willing to talk about it and then saying it’s something that he wanted to take into his starts, I think it’s pretty sweet when you hear a guy talk like that.”

Rotation possibilities

The Twins have only one confirmed starting pitcher for the upcoming three games that start a five-game series in Cleveland this weekend. Friday is to be determined, though a likely option is Bailey Ober. Baldelli said Ober’s next start will come in the major leagues, now that he has completed his rehab assignments for his right groin injury. He last pitched for the Twins on June 1 but most recently threw 4⅔ innings for the Saints this past Sunday, allowing a home run and a walk with six strikeouts.

Josh Winder will start one of the games of Saturday’s doubleheader. The other spot is also not confirmed, though it could be Varland as the 29th man again. He gave up three hits, two runs, including a homer, and a walk in 5⅓ innings but struck out seven.

Roberto Clemente Day

The Twins, along with the rest of MLB, celebrated Roberto Clemente Day on Thursday. Fellow Puerto Ricans Carlos Correa, Jose Miranda, Jorge Lopez, Emilio Pagan and Jovani Moran all wore his No. 21, as did Buxton, the club’s nominee for the 2022 Roberto Clemente Award that honors a player’s on-field and humanitarian efforts.

“I feel like Roberto Clemente is to us Latin players what Jackie Robinson is to African-American players,” Correa said. “He’s the one that made us believe and dream that we could be here playing in the big leagues for the world to see. That’s really special. I truly believe his number, at some point, should be retired as well.”

Injury updates

Catcher Ryan Jeffers was back in the Twins clubhouse Thursday after spending several weeks rehabbing in Fort Myers, Fla., from surgery on his broken right thumb. Jeffers plans to be the designated hitter for the Saints on Friday but still needs to catch some games before he can play again for the Twins. He’s been out since July 14.

“From a healing standpoint, the thumb is not an issue,” Jeffers said. “It’s just my body. I took a long period of time off. Now I’m trying to get my body ready quickly. Doing that in the safest possible way.”

Outfielder Trevor Larnach was set to be the DH on Thursday, though he also must play in the field before he is ready, per Baldelli.

“Bringing guys back who can play and then maybe need a day or two once they play a game, that’s not going to help us as much as we think,” Baldelli said. “And we want to do what’s right by the player, too. So that’s why we’re thoroughly working these guys out and putting them through what they need before they come back.”

Jorge Polanco with his left knee and Buxton with his right knee and hip also are in that same situation, as is Max Kepler. Kepler is not on the injured list but has played sparingly the past week with a right hip issue. And Baldelli said some wrist soreness has come up, as well.

“Swinging the bat has been a little bit of a challenge for him over the last couple of days,” Baldelli said.

Luis Arraez left Wednesday’s game after the first inning with left hamstring tightness, something he’s dealt with for a couple of weeks. He didn’t start Thursday, but pinch-hit in the seventh inning and flied out to center.

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