Rookie right-hander Cole Sands will make his third major league start as the Minnesota Twins go for a sweep of their three-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday afternoon in Minneapolis.

Sands (0-2, 8.49 ERA) made his major league debut in relief against Tampa Bay on May 1 when he pitched the final two innings in a 9-3 victory over the Rays. He allowed two runs on three hits while striking out two.

The 24-year-old Sands, a fifth-round pick out of Florida State in the 2018 MLB Draft, picked up losses in his two previous starts, a 4-0 loss at Detroit on May 31 and a 10-4 setback to the visiting New York Yankees on Tuesday. He has allowed a combined eight earned runs on 13 hits and six walks over 7 2/3 innings during that span.

Tampa Bay will counter with left-hander Jeffrey Springs (2-2, 1.62). Springs is 1-2 with a 2.01 ERA in six starts since joining the Rays’ rotation on May 9. He pitched one hitless inning in his only previous appearance against the Twins in 2018.

Minnesota comes off a 6-5 victory on Saturday afternoon. Luis Arraez continued his hot hitting with three more hits, including his first career grand slam to highlight a five-run third inning against the Rays’ highly touted pitching prospect Shane Baz.

Arraez, who leads the majors in both batting average (.367) and on-base percentage (.449), drilled a 2-0 fastball 403 feet into the plaza behind the right field bleachers to give the Twins a 4-3 lead.

“It feels amazing because that was my first one,” Arraez said. “I just prepared my mind to hit the ball hard and I got my first grand slam.”

Minnesota fans held their breath during Arraez’s next at-bat when he crumpled onto home plate after fouling a Brooks Raley pitch off his left kneecap. But Arraez remained in the game and then lined a single right past Raley. He also added another single in the sixth. It marked the seventh time this season he had three or more hits in a game.

“Arraez is really good,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “Look at his slash line right now. He’s swinging the bat well. He got us.”

Baz, who allowed six straight batters to reach base to start the third, allowed five runs on three hits and three walks over 2 1/3 innings in his first start of 2022 after undergoing arthroscopic right elbow surgery in March.

“He’s coming off some rehab starts and all that but he’s got tremendous stuff,” said Twins manager Rocco Baldelli. “(Arraez’s grand slam) really was a moment, an exclamation point.”

The Twins improved to 4-1 against Tampa Bay. They guaranteed themselves a winning record for a nine-game stretch against AL East contenders that began by winning two of three in Toronto followed by one win in three home games against the Yankees.

Perhaps even more impressive is the fact they won the first two against the Rays with starting pitchers Devin Smeltzer and Chi Chi Gonzalez, who weren’t even on the 28-man Opening Day roster. Both were called up after Sonny Gray (right pectoral strain) and Joe Ryan (COVID-19), both due back next week, went on the injured list.

“We know who we’re playing, obviously, but you wouldn’t think anything of it or know anything of it by watching the way we’ve gone out there and done our jobs,” Baldelli said. “I don’t know if the guys feel like it’s a challenge or not but it’s a tough stretch.”

–Field Level Media