Gibson taking more relaxed, simplified approach to pitching

In Kyle Gibson's March 3 start against the Blue Jays, he tossed three scoreless innings, throwing 13 of his 14 pitches for strikes.

Tommy Gilligan/Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

FORT MYERS, Fla.  — When Kyle Gibson went out for his first start on March 3 against the Toronto Blue Jays, he said he felt a little light bulb go off.

"When I got to the mound I told myself I was going to throw a four-seamer down the middle and relax," he recalled. "Trust my stuff."

Gibson threw three scoreless innings. Of his 14 pitches, 13 were for strikes.

What he and Minnesota Twins hope is that the nerves of his 2013 rookie season are over and that the 26-year-old can go out a more confident, composed starter.

Right now, Gibson, Samuel Deduno, Vance Worley and Scott Diamond appear to be the main candidates for the final spot in the rotation behind Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey. Since Deduno, Worley and Diamond are out of minor-league options, they must be placed on waivers before heading to the minors.

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The Twins’ first-round pick in 2009, Gibson has struggled in his climb to the majors. Last season, he went 2-4 with 6.53 earned run average. While his 20 walks in 51 innings aren’t awful, he got behind in counts and that led to him giving up seven homers and 69 hits.

"When he first came into camp, I said that was valuable experience," Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "Now you see what it is and you got the big league experience out of your system and you know what to expect.

"Sometimes people don’t understand that they’re kids. Guys like Kyle Gibson go through a learning process. Everyone wants the big phenom to come up and dominate but you have to go through a bit of a learning period. They need to get over the ahhhh. When Kyle Gibson pitches like who he is, he’ll get through the ahhhh. But it takes time."

Gibson said his bullpen sessions with Anderson would be good before his starts.

But in that walk from the pen to the mound, something happened.

"I was definitely tense last year," he admitted. "Not as calm as I wanted to be. Just nervous and anxious and adrenaline compiled together. Mentally I didn’t handle it as well as I should, for whatever reason. I didn’t feel myself."

Whether it was the crowd or the batter or the moment, the punches Gibson took were a combination.

First, the nerves affected his fundamentals and mechanics. He gripped the ball tighter, which left his slider up and affected his sinker as well. He also started to pull his front leg, which affected his release point.

That led to 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, 3-1 counts.

Hitters counts.

When Gibson got ahead, he did all right.

When he didn’t, he got pounded.

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"I hardly ever had mechanical issues," he said. "I’ve been able to repeat my delivery fairly well. But I’d pull my front leg and miss with pitches and I’d think I’m not getting the scouting report right.

"It also would affect how my fingers came off the ball and the general spin. It’s like a batter. If he gets up there and he’s swinging so tight you can see sawdust, it’s not good. Loose is best.

"Same thing on the mound. If you grip it too tight, the ball is not shooting out of the hand."

Anderson said when Gibson eases up and spreads his delivery out and lets his pitches go, "He’s pretty darn good.

"You grip too tight, you overthrow. He’ll learn from it. Relax and it happen."

Gibson said he’s talked to teammates, watched how pitchers handled themselves in the playoffs. The former Missouri star also had great mental training from Rick McGuire, the former track coach, who also is the school’s director of sports psychology. Gibson took 3-4 courses from the man who said, "The mind is the gatekeeper of the body, and right thoughts help let it out, and wrong thoughts lock it in. While people acknowledge that, they don’t understand it."

Gibson’s approach this spring has been to simplify things. He’s not worried about who he’s competing with for the team’s fifth starter spot, although he notes, "it should be a couple of fun weeks." He’s not worried whether he’s sent to the minors or not and he’s certainly not letting others’ expectations bother him.

He’s thinking more about the good starts he had against Kansas City on June 29 and the Angels on July 23 when he gave up two runs in six innings and how he can build off that.

"I feel like I came into this season knowing I had some adjustments I had to make," he said. "I can compare my feelings to last year and know my shoulders aren’t up to my ears. When that first outing was clicking I didn’t have to do anything extra.

"I think I’ve done a pretty job so far. I think I only can control what I can. Not just in baseball but in life."