The Elizabethton third baseman hit a two-run home run over the right-field wall to highlight the Twins’ 7-1 win over the Kingsport Mets on Friday night at Northeast Community Credit Union Ballpark.
Gray, the fourth-round draft pick out of Wright State, has two home runs for the season. They have both come in the last four games.
“I’ve been getting back in the swing of things,” said Gray, a 6-foot-3 infielder from Springfield, Ohio. “Baseball is a game of ups and downs. You just have to go through the grind, get better and see the ball better every game. The pitching in the pros, the ‘V-Lo’ (velocity) of a lot of young guys throwing hard, you have to get used to that. Then it’s the same deal of getting in there and competing.”
Elizabethton improved to 9-8, second place in the Appalachian League West Division standings.
Gray’s home run came after Anthony Prato’s RBI single to center field. The Twins didn’t need much offense as Kingsport had a tough time coming up with timely hits.
The Mets (7-10) left nine runners stranded on base. They finished just 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.
There was no such trouble for the Twins, who added to the lead with Max Smith’s sacrifice fly in the sixth inning to score Albee Weiss.
Kingsport threatened to make a comeback in the seventh inning. Kennie Taylor doubled to center field, but the throw from Willie Joe Garry Jr. to first and the relay throw by Weiss resulted in Elizabethton catcher Janigson Villalobos tagging out the Mets’ Sebastian Espino at the plate.
Taylor scored the Mets’ only run after Scott Ota’s line drive to right field.
Elizabethton made sure it didn’t hurt, with Villalobos socking a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth. Villalobos later scored on a wild pitch to give the Twins a six-run lead.
Lead-off man Spencer Steer and Garry each went 2-for-4 to lead Elizabethton at the plate. The Twins collected 11 hits overall, with everyone in the lineup getting at least one hit.
With Gray’s home run, it was a matter of being more consistent than overpowering at the plate.
“First pitch, I was looking for a fastball and he went in on me the first at-bat, so I got it and put a good barrel on it,” he said. “It helps when the pitcher is throwing harder. You go nice and easy and the ball carries where the velocity does it for you. It’s more about smoother swings instead of muscling up.”
Starting pitcher Andriu Marin went four innings, striking out six, while giving up three hits and two walks.
Denny Bentley (2-0) went the next 2 1/3 innings and was credited with the win before turning over the ball to Frandy Torres, who got his first save.
Junior Santos, a 17-year-old right-hander, suffered the loss for the Mets. He gave up three runs and four hits over 2 2/3 innings.
No player had more than one hit for Kingsport. Jaylen Palmer, Cole Kleszcz and Taylor had doubles.
Elizabethton, which won 6-2 on Thursday, will go for the series sweep against Kingsport on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. It features a Joe Mauer T-shirt giveaway to celebrate the former E-Twin and 2009 American League Most Valuable Player.