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Sonny Gray continues to labor through his starts

Sonny Gray of the Yankees leaves the game

Sonny Gray of the Yankees leaves the game in the fifth inning against the Twins at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday. Credit: Jim McIsaac

The Yankees’ search for Sonny Gray will have to continue.

The club has spent weeks hoping to see the pitcher who had been the ace of the Oakland staff, was a big enough 2017 acquisition to trade former No. 1 pick James Kaprielian and who pitched 65 1⁄3 innings to a 3.72 ERA over 11 key starts down the stretch last season. But Gray came up empty again Wednesday night in the 7-4 win over Minnesota at the Stadium.

Gray once again pitched to long counts, worked very deliberately and didn’t get deep into the game. After the Yankees scored four runs in their half of the third inning for a 5-2 lead, the righty continued to labor.

He gave up three straight singles for a run in the fourth and he couldn’t get out of the fifth, exiting for reliever Chad Green with two out and the bases loaded after throwing 104 pitches. He allowed three runs on six hits and five walks while striking out four in 4 2⁄3 innings.

Gray will take a 1-1 record and a 7.71 ERA into his next start, scheduled for next week in Houston.

The Yankees have been trying to help Gray find his top form, like he had in Oakland. Though he managed just 10 innings between his first two starts this season, he pitched to a 3.60 ERA while throwing both times to backup catcher Austin Romine. Starter Gary Sanchez caught his next two starts and he was far worse in those; he didn’t get out of the fourth inning in either of those and allowed 11 runs over 6 1⁄3 innings in them. So with a choice of starting Romine either Wednesday night or Thursday afternoon, manager Aaron Boone opted to pair Romine with Gray.

However, Boone said before first pitch, that he wants the Gray-Sanchez battery to work better and that he has little interest in giving any of his starters a standing date with Romine.

Boone called Sanchez “an elite hitting catcher” and the team doesn’t want to reach key games in the second half — or even in the postseason — where Gray’s turn in the rotation means a hard decision. “You’re not going to want to sit him down, so that relationship is important,” Boone said prior to first pitch. “In the regular season there should be plenty of time — Gary will catch three of four — where it works out. If it’s about a rhythm between two guys, there’s something to that, but I don’t want to get locked down.”

Still that pairing did not produce what could be called a good result.

Boone’s confidence that the authentic Gray will reappear has not been shaken yet, though he admits Gray has often favored the fine pitch to attacking. It might help explain 29 hits and 16 walks over his first 21 innings.

“He’s got really good stuff. He’s able to do things not a lot of guys are able to. So I sometimes think it’s the case of he feels like he can always make the perfect pitch,” Boone said. “It’s partly a strength of his, but if he just pounds the zone with it and trusts a little bit more, the success will follow.”

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