With a sore back the culprit, Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson had to push his latest start back more than 10 days.
Turns out it was worth the wait.
Gibson spun a gem Tuesday in Minnesota’s series opener, proving the back was no longer an issue. He allowed just two hits and struck out six Royals batters as the Twins topped Kansas City 2-1 at Kauffman Stadium.
"I felt good. My back definitely loosened up and felt good today," Gibson said. "Kind of from the get-go, my fastball just felt really good and I probably had some of my best fastball command I’ve had all year."
The result: just the two hits — a two-out single in the third, and a harmless one-out single in the sixth — were all the Royals mustered against Gibson all night. Kansas City’s Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas did draw walks in the bottom of the fifth, but Gibson was able to get one of his seven strikeouts to end the threat.
For a team that has had so many issues with the starting rotation this year, Gibson’s seven scoreless innings were a breath of fresh air.
"Gibby really threw the ball very, very well for us," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "Obviously we’re always concerned if he tightens up or anything like that. He was cruising the night. I talked to him afterwards. He said his back felt great. He said he got a little tight in his hips, which is expected when you haven’t been out there for 10 days. But everything went along just fine."
After pitching on July 18 against Tampa Bay, Gibson was scheduled to pitch five days later against Cleveland. But his back tightened up on him two days before that start and didn’t feel better the night before he was due to pitch. So Minnesota pulled reliever Anthony Swarzak from the bullpen to take Gibson’s place for a spot start.
The Twins were hopeful that Gibson could be inserted back into the rotation this past Saturday against Chicago, but the back still hadn’t loosened up enough to the point where Minnesota felt comfortable putting him back on the mound. Instead, Gibson had to wait until Tuesday for his next turn in the rotation.
Tuesday’s crisp performance was another example of how good Gibson can be, but a reminder of how inconsistent he’s been throughout the season. This start followed up one in which he allowed six runs on nine hits against the Rays. One start before that he pitched six scoreless innings. That outing came five days after surrendering six runs (five earned) in just two innings against the Yankees.
The disparity between Gibson’s numbers in wins versus his stats in losses has been quite notable. He’s now pitched in 20 games, 10 of which were Twins wins. In those victories, Gibson is 9-0 with a 0.66 ERA, while opponents hit .186 against him. In the 10 games Gibson has pitched in which the Twins lost, he’s gone 0-8 with an 8.80 ERA and a .328 opponent average.
It’s been quite the up-and-down season, and Tuesday was definitely one of the positives. Now it’s up to Gibson to try and replicate what he did against the Royals and string together a few good starts in a row.
"We’re looking for consistency and taking it next time in his start and doing the same thing," Gardenhire said. "You’re going to face a different ball club. There’s always different challenges. Still, it’s all about remaining in control out there on the mound and not letting the situation overtake you, and he handled it really nice tonight."
FOX Sports North’s Jamie Hersch contributed to this report.