FORT MYERS, FLA. — Sonny Gray's oldest son collects baseball cards, so there wasn't much doubt about how impressed he would be by the collection of baseball talent on display at Hammond Stadium on Thursday.

But Gray himself was just as big a fan.

"I saw [Manny] Machado and I saw Nelson [Cruz] and I saw Sandy [Alcantara] and guys that you just don't really get to interact with all the time," Gray said of the Dominican Republic's World Baseball Classic team, which assembled and worked out at the Twins' spring complex this spring. "They were in our weight room, so I made it a point to make my way around and say hey to some of the guys. If you don't play with them, you don't get to interact much. Had some good conversations. It was a lot of fun."

And so was the baseball game that followed, especially for Gray. Facing one of the strongest opposing lineups of his career — albeit with little on the line and Machado, Juan Soto and Rafael Devers out of the lineup — Gray went nine up and nine down, setting the tone for the Twins' 2-1 victory over the Dominicans.

"It's fun to compete against the best players. That's some of the most fun you get to have, [competing] against the best and see where you stack up," Gray said. "I felt comfortable, confident, aggressive. You don't want to go out there and embarrass yourself. So it was fun to do that. I loved the competition."

Rocco Baldelli loved the atmosphere that the Dominicans — and their noisy, flag-draped fans — brought, too. The crowd chanted at several players as they took batting practice before the game, and turned the ninth inning into a tense, rowdy event.

"It gives you a real nice taste of baseball in different parts of the world. There was more energy in this ballgame than in almost any spring training game I've ever been a part of," Baldelli said. "I know it meant an incredible amount to the players and staff members. Rarely in a spring game do you see the players as dialed-in as they were today."

Especially the minor-leaguers who are borrowed each day to fill out the late innings of each game. The Twins made it a point to choose as many Dominicans as possible for the duty on Thursday, knowing how meaningful it would be to them. And bullpen candidate Oliver Ortega was assigned to protect the Twins' lead in the ninth inning against his countrymen.

The Twins scored two runs in the fourth inning when Kyle Farmer walked, stole second base and scored when Wander Franco fielded Jose Miranda's ground ball and threw it past first baseman Gary Sanchez. Miranda moved up a base on the error, then scored on Joey Gallo's single to right of Astros' righthander Bryan Abreu.

That second run became important in the ninth, when the Twins had six Dominicans on the field. Ortega walked leadoff hitter Ismael Perez, and Jeremy Pena followed with a single to left field. When Class A outfielder Yoyner Fajardo bobbled the ball briefly, both runners moved up a base.

Ortega then threw a wild pitch, scoring Perez. But he finished out the game by inducing Willy Adames to fly out to Twins prospect Emmanuel Rodriguez in center field, too shallow to score Pena, then striking out Rubel Cespedes and, with the Dominican fans clamoring for a hit, Sanchez, the former Twin who looked at a 3-2 curveball on the outside edge.

"Very happy," Ortega said after the game. "A good day."

Talking baseball

Gray has found a way to use PitchCom, the communication device between pitcher and catcher, to his liking.

After attaching a transmitter to his belt and calling every pitch in his last start, the veteran righthander attached the device to his wrist and used it "on about 10" of his 40 pitches Thursday. Catcher Ryan Jeffers also had a transmitter, which MLB said it would be legal, and called most of the pitches.

"If I threw a pitch and saw the hitter do something and I knew exactly where to go next, then I would give him a suggestion or tell him" what pitch would be next," Gray said. "If I'm really really convicted about what I want to throw, I can go ahead and hit it on my glove. It worked really smoothly."


  • Third baseman Jose Miranda will test his sore throwing shoulder on Friday, probably about half-speed to see if the pain that has nagged him for two weeks recurs.
  • Pitcher Josh Winder, sidelined out of caution for his shoulder, threw his first bullpen session of the spring Wednesday, and will throw another this weekend, in anticipation of facing hitters sometime next week.
  • BOXSCORE: Twins 2, Dominican Republic 1