MINNEAPOLIS — What’s almost certainly Kyle Gibson’s last stroll off the Target Field pitcher’s mound this season didn’t end at the home dugout.
Rather than watch all the latter stages of a 6-1, interleague loss he helped precipitate, the Twins rookie shuffled to the team’s video room after being chased in the fourth inning. There, he sat through a painful self-critique, staring plainly at a monitor that revealed the extent of his failures in his 10th major league start.
There was Joe Mauer’s glove, positioned to collect a fastball on the outside of the strike zone.
There was Gibson’s pitch location, a few inches away and in perfect position for Mets designated hitter Andrew Brown to rope an 0-2 single and extend the first of two straight three-hit innings to open the afternoon.
All told, Gibson counted a mere 27 of his 72 pitches that hit Mauer’s mitt in the desired place.
“If you go back and look at the video,” the 6-foot-6, hard-throwing right-hander said, “it’s probably not a mystery that I’m struggling right now.”
Somewhere during his evaluation, Gibson received news at least part of him had been waiting to hear.
His first taste of Major League Baseball was over after 10 games that yielded just two victories, a constantly rising 6.53 ERA and unfulfilled expectations for a starting rotation in desperate need of a ringer.
Not that anyone in Twins Territory hoped for immediate ace status. But allowing opponents to hit .327 against him and giving up 69 hits in 51 innings was far from the desired marks on his first big-league test.
“In all honesty,” manager Ron Gardenhire said, “we just wanted to see what he had, to see how he did.”
Gibson (2-4) made his much-heralded debut June 29 against the Kansas City Royals, a team with which he shared close geographic proximity during a sterling collegiate career at Missouri. That day — about a year-and-a-half removed from Tommy John surgery — he went six innings and gave up two earned runs while striking out five in a 6-2 Twins victory.
Those numbers represent his peak performance during his first foray into the majors. He never pitched past the sixth inning and gave up four or more earned runs in half his appearances.
Monday, in a makeup contest against New York originally slated for April 14 he faced 20 batters and gave up 10 hits, one off his season high. Gardenhire pulled him for Anthony Swarzak after Gibson loaded the bases a second time.
“I don’t know that I can sit here and say that I saw it coming, but any time you struggle for as long as I have and not throw the way you want to throw and have success, there’s always a chance you’re gonna get sent down,” said Gibson, who went 7-5 with a 3.01 ERA in 15 Triple-A starts before his call-up. “That’s part of the business; their job is to win, and they need guys that are here that are gonna give the team a chance to win, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that as much as I wanted to.”
While Gibson has the tools to be an everyday starter, Gardenhire said, he still leaves much to be desired when it comes to working ahead in counts and being efficient with his low 90s fastball and sinker and 85-mph slider.
The Twins were counting on much more than that, eventually, when they drafted him 22nd overall in the 2009 draft.
“Not too many people can go right out and just dominate right away,” Gardenhire reminded reporters. “He’s got some things to learn still.”
Gibson will attempt to do so in Rochester, where the Red Wings sit in first place in the International League North with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
How long he’ll pitch is up in the air; the plan all along has been to shut him down once he’s pitched a certain amount of innings in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery undergone Nov. 7, 2011. This year, he’s tossed 142 1/3 frames between Rochester and Minnesota.
Just before clearing his locker and saying goodbye to several Twins players, Gibson said his arm remains 100 percent.
It’s never easy to see a teammate go, said Mauer, particularly one as well-respected in the clubhouse as Gibson — even if he’s only 25.
“He prepares, he works hard, and he just hasn’t had a whole lot of success,” Mauer said. “But knowing him, he’s gonna go down there and work on some things. We’ll see him soon.”
Minnesota said in a release it will decide upon Gibson’s rotation replacement “at a later date.” His next scheduled start was Saturday at Cleveland.
Swarzark, who boasts a 2.87 ERA in 75 1/3 innings of mostly long relief this season, is a candidate to take Gibson’s spot. So are minor-league prospects Liam Hendriks (3-8, 5.08 ERA) and P.J. Walters (6-3, 3.99), though neither has put up ultra-impressive numbers in Rochester.
Golly Gee: Gibson’s struggles weren’t the only culprit behind the Twins’ (54-69) sixth loss in seven outings.
Mets starter Dillon Gee allowed just one unearned run on six hits in 7 2/3 mostly dominant innings, fanning nine batters in a lineup he’d never seen before.
“Them not knowing (me), I just tried to mix up my pitches for strikes,” said Gee, who moved to 9-8 and has posted an ERA of 1.74 over his last seven starts. “And elevating and throwing a couple changeups and curveballs, and just try to catch them with a high fastball.”
The Twins’ exhaustibly-documented ineptitude with runners in scoring position found an ever lower depth, as they went 0-for-10 and were outhit 14-7.
Mauer went 2-for-4 with a single and a double that just missed clearing the right-center wall — his second such hit this homestand — but that was the extent of Minnesota’s offensive production in falling to 0-3 against New York (57-66) this season.
“I’m just sick of losing games,” said Mauer, who extended his hitting streak to seven games. “That’s the one thing. It just seems like we haven’t had that clutch hit. It seems like when guys do get good at-bats with runners in scoring position, we hit it at somebody.”
Better with age: Mauer has offered another example this season that his age isn’t slowing him down, even at one of the most physically demanding positions in the sport.
In addition to leading the Twins with a .324 batting average (as of Monday morning), the 30-year-old All-Star has had one of his most effective campaigns throwing out base runners to date.
He’s caught 43 percent of potential base thieves stealing (17 of 40), tying the second-best mark of his career.
Nothing Mauer does surprises Gardenhire anymore, the skipper said.
“Joe’s legs are underneath him really good right now,” Gardenhire said. “He’s healthy. His arm feels good. He’s always been able to throw, and very accurate.”
Trainers check on Deduno: Starting pitcher Sam Deduno had his throwing shoulder examined immediately following Sunday afternoon’s 5-2 loss to the White Sox. He’d mentioned his arm felt a little sorer than normal after allowing five runs on eight hits in five innings, though he did his best to give reporters the impression he’d be just fine moving forward.
Assistant general manager Rob Antony said everything checked out OK, but the team will be monitoring the situation closely.
“Any time a pitcher talks, you’ve got to take that seriously and follow up on it,” Antony said. “Sometimes, two days later, they throw and they say, ‘Ah, it doesn’t feel like it did on Sunday. It feels alright. I think I’m OK.’ And then you can move forward from there.”
For the moment, Deduno (7-7, 3.82 ERA) is expected to make his next regularly-scheduled start Friday in Cleveland. After producing six quality starts during a seven-game stretch in July, he hasn’t pitched past the sixth inning in his last three outings, all losses.
On the road again: After going 2-6 during an eight-game homestand, the Twins have two three-game road series against Detroit and Cleveland. Their next nine contests come against division opponents, as Kansas City comes to Target Field for another three-game stretch next week.
Thanks to the postponed Mets matchup, Minnesota will have played 27 games in 27 days by next Monday, their first day off since Aug. 8.