Carlos Correa, Sonny Gray lead Twins to series win vs. Ash

OAKLAND — “Carlos Correa” returned to the Twins lineup on Wednesday, marking the occasion in the only way that seemed appropriate.

The veteran shortstop singled into rightfield as part of a three-run first inning against Oakland Athletics-starter Daulton Jefferies. It was a sign of things to come, as the Twins registered a 14-4 victory that secured their first series win in Oakland (of three or more games) since the 2010 season.

Correa also lined an RBI double high from the wall at center right in the fourth inning. He finished 2-for-4 with two runs scored in his first game back after missing the previous 11 games with a bruised right middle finger.

“I really missed being with them,” Correa said after the game. “I started to get a little bored in the dugout. I helped in several ways, but at some point it started to itch. When I went out again it definitely felt like opening day [again]†

In the absence of Correa, Minnesota’s top contender Royce Lewis traded a short stop and shone in his first stint in the Majors. It was thought that the Twins might keep Lewis on the big league-roster, even after Correa returned. And when it was announced at the Minnesota clubhouse on Tuesday night that Lewis had been chosen for the minors to clear a spot on the list, it surprised some players.

But Twins manager Rocco Baldelli explained that the club wants Lewis to continue playing shortstop and getting at bats every day. That wasn’t going to happen in the Majors for a while with the return of Correa, who signed a $105 million three-year off-season contract.

Baldelli also said it would not be healthy for the 22-year-old’s development to keep Lewis at the big club and let him jump into different positions. The Twins plan to give Lewis some time elsewhere in the Minors, although shortstop remains his primary position.

Correa’s performance on Wednesday was proof of why Minnesota thinks it can afford to send Lewis away for now. A two-time All-Star who won a platinum glove while with Houston, 27-year-old Correa provides an impact baton in the No. 3 spot in the order. He also showed no harm to the defense on Wednesday due to the injury to his throwing hand.

“With Carlos back, it’s really nice to see him behind me at the short stop,” said Twins starter Sonny Gray. “Royce has done a great job. It was really nice and cool to see him come up and get some time. But I think we’re all really happy to have Carlos back. There’s no one I’d rather look over my shoulder and watch shortstop than that guy.”

Gray (1-1) had a decent day of his own, holding the A’s to two runs in six innings. He struckout five without walks and registered his first win in a Twins-uniform.

It was also Gray’s first win over the A’s in four career starts. He was Oakland’s first-round draft pick in 2011, and went to his first All-Star Game as an athletic in 2015.

“I’d never beaten the A’s before,” Gray said, “so I really wanted to do that — selfishly, personally.”

The importance of a match against Jefferies had not escaped him either. Gray was with the A’s when they drafted Jefferies with the 37th overall pick of the 2016 Draft. Jefferies, a Northern California native, said he grew up watching Gray pitch at the Coliseum. He was elated when he signed with the A’s and met Gray during a trip to the Colosseum in 2016.

Gray and Jefferies reconnected Monday and chatted before the series opener.

“If you think full circle, he was watching me in high school [pitch] here, and now I’ve moved on and he’s doing it here,” Gray said. “I know it was probably a pretty cool feeling for him. Same on my side too. … I hope he gets it going.”

With Correa back in the lineup, Minnesota has the potential to keep things going as a team. The win of the Twins on Wednesday improved their record to 22-16 and gave them a three-game lead over the Chicago White Sox for first place in the American League Central.

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