Twins’ Gibson putting Tommy John surgery in the past

Kyle Gibson picked a good time for a complete game shutout.

The Minnesota Twins’ pitching prospect went the distance Wednesday for Triple-A Rochester in a 3-0 win over Toledo. Just one day earlier, the Red Wings used nine pitchers in a marathon 16-inning 3-2 win, so Gibson helped preserve Rochester’s bullpen.

Gibson’s best game of the year also followed up his worst outing of the young season. Last time out, Gibson gave up five runs on 11 hits (10 singles) in just 4 2/3 innings as he was hit with his fourth loss of the season.

After Wednesday’s complete game shutout, the question will no doubt be asked: will we be seeing Gibson in a Twins uniform soon? It’s a question you would guess the 25-year-old Gibson gets asked often, but he insists that’s not the case.

“I don’t think I hear it a lot,” Gibson told in a phone interview Tuesday, one day before his complete game shutout. “I think any time any team in the big leagues, they always want to see a lot of minor leagues come up and have a possible chance to help the team. I think there’s a lot of guys here that could create a lot of excitement for the fans. … I don’t think I hear it any more than them.”

Since the Twins took the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Gibson out of Missouri with the 22nd overall pick in the first round of the 2009 draft, fans have been waiting for his arrival in the major leagues. Gibson was on track to perhaps make his Twins debut in 2012, but an elbow injury late in the 2011 season derailed that thought. Gibson underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in September of 2011, keeping him out for nearly the entire 2012 campaign.

It’s been more than a year now since Gibson’s surgery and he’s proven that the injury is behind him. He appeared in a handful of games late in the 2012 season as part of his rehab and he later pitched in the Arizona Fall League after the 2012 season.

The elbow that has slowed his path to the major leagues is no longer an issue when Gibson takes the mound.

“I’m definitely not thinking, ‘OK, take it easy on this pitch,’ or, ‘Take it easy this inning to get to the next inning,'” Gibson said. “I feel strong like I did back in 2011 and 2010 before the injury. Hopefully I have minimal problems and that’ll be completely behind me.”

Minnesota is also convinced that Gibson’s elbow isn’t anything to worry about at this point. Twins general manager Terry Ryan said that while they’re keeping an eye on Gibson’s innings, an innings count is “not a piece of this thing” as Gibson continues his 2013 season.

“We’re treating him like any other member of that staff,” Ryan said. “He’s getting an opportunity to go every fifth or sixth day down there. We’re trying to make sure that when the time comes, he’s ready to go, just like a few guys down there.”

With Wednesday’s shutout win in the books, Gibson lowered his season ERA to 3.32 in seven starts. He’s had his share of good starts this year — he went 6 2/3 scoreless innings on April 27 while striking out seven in his first win of the year — but he’s also had a few rocky starts.

Still, Gibson isn’t walking many batters (11 in 40 2/3 innings) and has picked up 35 strikeouts along the way. He’s been effective with the number of pitches he’s thrown, too. Even in his last outing prior to Wednesday, he faced 24 batters and threw 75 pitches. In Wednesday’s complete game, he needed 114 pitches and threw 70 of those for strikes.

“My fastball command has been good when I’m throwing well,” Gibson said. “My sinker’s been sinking to the point where I can throw it quite a bit and get ground balls. That’s kind of been what’s been working for me this year when things have been going good.”

Gibson knew he had a shot to make the Twins’ 25-man roster out of spring, but he admits he didn’t pitch well enough in spring training to warrant a trip north. He was instead optioned to Triple-A Rochester after allowing eight earned runs on 14 hits in just eight innings of work.

That opened the door for the likes of Cole De Vries and Liam Hendriks to earn spots in the rotation while Gibson — who was pegged as the 68th-best prospect for 2013 by Baseball America — returned to Rochester to wait for his opportunity.

“I think going into it I had a chance, but I definitely needed to throw better than I did,” Gibson said. “There were a lot of guys that threw really good in spring training that definitely earned to pitch with the big league team. Unfortunately, I just didn’t quite earn that by the way I threw. When I had the meeting with (Terry Ryan) and Gardy and they sent me down, they said, ‘Go down and work on the stuff you need to work on and get to where you need to be and then hopefully you’ll be up here soon.'”

If he continues to pitch like he did Wednesday, Gibson’s debut will indeed come soon enough.

“His stuff is solid right down the board,” Ryan said. “His fastball, slider, change are all effective pitches. Now it’s just a matter of location, damage control, things of that nature that every pitcher ultimately goes through. … I think everything is moving to the point here where he’s got to feel good about himself, and we certainly do.”

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