MINNEAPOLIS — On a night when the Minnesota Twins needed their starting pitcher to go deep into the game, Kyle Gibson delivered. And through two starts, Gibson has pitched more like an ace than a No. 5 starter.
Granted, it’s early to throw such labels onto the Twins’ 26-year-old right-hander. But following arguably the best start of the year by a Minnesota pitcher, Gibson has looked much better than a player who had to win a job in spring as the fifth starter in the rotation.
Twins starters now have just two wins through 10 games, and both of them belong to Gibson. He picked up win No. 2 in Friday’s 10-1 victory over Kansas City. Gibson went 6 1/3 innings — the longest outing by a Minnesota starter so far this year — and allowed just one run on four hits. The 6 1/3 innings also happened to be the longest start of Gibson’s young major league career.
"It’s no secret that we know our starting pitching’s going to get better," said Twins bench coach Terry Steinbach, serving as the acting manager with Ron Gardenhire absent from Friday’s game. "Hopefully this is a step in the right direction. For Gibby to go out there today and pitch like he did and one, eat up some innings and two, put us in a really, really good chance to win a game was something we definitely needed."
Gibson played the role of stopper in Friday’s series opener at Target Field. The Twins’ victory snapped a few losing streaks, including a nine-game skid at home that dated back to the end of last season. It was also Minnesota’s first win against the Royals at Target Field in eight tries.
More importantly, though, was the shot in the arm Gibson’s outing gave to a pitching staff that has been a bit slow out of the gates. His quality start Friday was just the second such outing for a Twins pitcher through 10 games, tied for the fewest in all of baseball. He was also the first Minnesota starter to pitch into the seventh inning, which helped preserve the Twins’ bullpen.
"I think it’s still early. We’ve got a lot of good starting pitching," Gibson said. "I think the Twins fans are going to be pretty happy at the end of the year when the rotation looks like it looks. I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. I think every starter goes out there with the mind to go deep. Just about each starter’s been a couple pitches away from going deep into the game."
It appeared early in Friday’s game as if Gibson’s night might not last long — or at least not as long as it did. He allowed a one-out single to Omar Infante in the top of the first inning after getting ahead of Infante 0-2. Eric Hosmer followed that up with a single to left, and a wild pitch by Gibson allowed Infante to advance to third. That allowed Infante to score on a groundout by Billy Butler, putting Gibson and the Twins in an early 1-0 deficit.
Butler’s groundout could have ended the inning, but Minnesota shortstop Pedro Florimon bobbled the ball and couldn’t turn the double play that would have gotten Gibson out of a jam. Instead, Gibson needed 13 more pitches — 28 total in the inning — to finally get oufo the first with just one run on the board.
From there, however, Gibson settled into a groove. He erased a leadoff double by Mike Moustakas in the second inning by retiring the next three batters he faced. Gibson then induced three ground ball outs in the third and had no trouble getting through the fourth and fifth innings. A leadoff walk in the sixth to Butler was negated one pitch later when Alex Gordon grounded into a double play.
In all, Gibson tallied 10 ground ball outs compared to just three fly ball outs. His sinker was working early and often, and he said his changeup helped keep the Royals hitters honest against his fastball.
"Kansas City’s a good hitting team, and one thing they don’t let you do is they don’t let you live on one side of the plate," Gibson said. "Moving the fastball in and out on all the lefties and even the righties I think is one thing that really helped."
Gibson entered spring training as one of several candidates for Minnesota’s fifth and final spot in the starting rotation. The Twins knew that Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey were essentially set in stone as the top four starters. But Gibson had to battle with Samuel Deduno, Scott Diamond and Vance Worley for a big league job.
Following a strong spring in which he posted a 2.20 ERA with seven strikeouts and three walks in 16 â innings, the job of No. 5 starter was Gibson’s to begin the 2014 season. He validated the Twins’ decision in his season debut by allowing just one run on three hits in five innings of work against Cleveland.
"I went into spring training just trying to throw the ball well," Gibson said. "I think the thing for me is, had I gone into spring training fighting for that spot and note thrown well, I wouldn’t have gotten the job. I just tried to make the decision as hard as possible for them and throw the ball well and hopefully get the spot."
Gibson one-upped his season debut with Friday’s start. Now the hope is that he and the rest of the starting staff can build off of that performance.