Sánchez, Gray power Twins past Guardians in series opener

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
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CLEVELAND — Sonny Gray turned an emotional, distracting day for the Twins into a dominant one.

The right-hander pitched seven superb innings and Gary Sanchez homered and drove in four runs to help Minnesota stretch its lead in the AL Central with an 11-1 blowout of the Cleveland Guardians on Monday night.

When they arrived in Cleveland on Sunday night ahead of the five-game series, the first-place Twins were rocked by news that pitching coach Wes Johnson is leaving to take over at LSU.

“I’m happy for him. I really am,” manager Rocco Baldelli said before the game. “This is the best move for Wes. I love him and I love everything that he’s done for this organization. We’re all going to miss him.”

The decision was felt throughout Minnesota’s clubhouse, but especially among the team’s pitchers.

Gray, acquired in March from Cincinnati, had grown close to Johnson and said he doesn’t want him to go.

“It’s a tough one,” said the right-hander, who allowed just three singles Monday night. “It’s someone who I became really close with and I think if you know me at all, letting people in and getting into relationships in that respect, I put my guard up a lot.

“I was mad at him a lot today. I was happy for him a lot today. I used every emotion and kind of everything that was going through, I kind of used it to pour into the game.”

Sanchez hit a three-run homer in the second inning off Triston McKenzie (4-6), sending the first-place Twins on their way to an easy win. Nick Gordon and Carlos Correa added two-run homers for Minnesota, now three games up on Cleveland.

The Guardians had briefly moved atop the division last week after rallying to win two of three in Minneapolis, but they’ve lost five straight. These rivals will play a day-night doubleheader Tuesday and are meeting eight times in 10 days before not seeing each other again until September.

“It was really nice to come away with the first one,” Gray said. “We got four more of these things in the next three days, so it’s going to be hopefully a good three days for us.”

Gray (4-1) never let the Guardians get going. He gave up hits in each of the first two innings, then retired 15 of 16 before walking Jose Ramirez to start the seventh – his first walk allowed in 22 innings.

“He’s really good,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said. “Now that he’s starting to get lengthened out where he’s not on a pitch count, he can go pitch. He changes speeds. He locates. He’s good. He’s really good.”

Gray got a no-decision last week against the Guardians. He changed his game plan this time around.

“Attacking guys, coming at guys,” he said. “My last game I might have tried to strike these guys out a little too much. Throughout their lineup, they have good bat-to-ball skills and they’re not a team where you’re just going to come in and punch out 10.”

McKenzie has been hurt by leaving pitches up in the strike zone – the right-hander has given up 16 homers in 80 1/3 innings, including three homers in 4 1/3 innings last week against the Twins.

“Home runs are a part of the game,” McKenzie said. “I feel like they have been a part of the game. I think it’s more just figuring out a way to limit the amount of runs that I give up beforehand.”

McKenzie hit Alex Kiriloff with one out and gave up a double to Gio Urshela before Sanchez pulled a 1-0 pitch into the left-field bleachers for his ninth homer.

The Twins added two more runs in the fourth on Urshela’s RBI double and a run-scoring single from Sanchez.

Gordon pushed Minnesota’s lead to 7-0 in the sixth with his third homer, and Correa’s eighth made it 9-0 in the seventh.

“We kept adding on,” Gray said. “That’s what good teams do.”

OWNER’S MANUAL

The Guardians have another new boss.

Owner Paul Dolan’s search for a minority investor ended with the team announcing that billionaire businessman David Blitzer has agreed to purchase a 25% stake in the franchise. Blitzer has partial ownership in the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils. He’s expected to eventually take majority ownership with Cleveland.

Manager Terry Francona met Blitzer and said he “seemed like a real nice guy.”

“Personally, I’m happy for Paul,” Francona said. “It seems like a pretty big weight that he now has somebody to help him here, which I think is great.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Twins: 2B Jorge Polanco (lower back tightness) may not be activated until later this week because of experiencing some soreness over the weekend. He took swings before Monday’s game.

Guardians: C Austin Hedges remained out of the lineup. Francona said the 29-year-old is a “little nicked up” but did not provide any details of an injury.

UP NEXT

The Twins will start Devin Smeltzer in Game 1 on Tuesday against Zach Plesac. Minnesota is recalling rookie Josh Winder to start the second game against Cleveland rookie Konnor Pilkington.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.