Gibson’s schedule back to normal as Twins face resurgent Indians

The final few weeks of the first half weren’t ideal for Kyle Gibson.

The Minnesota Twins starter pitched out of the bullpen against the Tampa Bay Rays on June 27, went six innings against the Oakland A’s on July 3 and pitched the first inning against the Texas Rangers on short rest July 7.

A week later his schedule should be back to normal, and not a moment too soon.

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Gibson is scheduled to start the first game of the second half Friday: Game 1 of a key series with the resurgent Cleveland Indians, as the Twins look to reestablish their once-massive division lead, currently down to 5 1/2 games.

The Indians, below .500 and 11 1/2 games back as recently as June 2, have stormed back to relevance over the past month. They’re 22-9 (.710) since June 1, the second-highest winning percentage in the majors over that span.

The Twins lead MLB with a combined .833 OPS, but the Indians’ offense has been better of late, with a .835 OPS since June 1, third in the American League over that span and just ahead of Minnesota (.807).

No pressure.

Gibson, for his part, has thrived under new pitching coach Wes Johnson, even if he hasn’t improved as dramatically as stablemates Jake Odorizzi and Martin Perez.

His ERA is up slightly (4.09) year-over-year, but his strikeout rate is at an all-time high: 8.9 per nine innings, up from a career-high 8.2 K/9 a year ago.

Gibson has been adept at pitching his way out of trouble, particularly against right-handed batters.

He has induced 26 double plays against righties this season in 106 opportunities. It’s the highest such rate in MLB at 24.5%, well above the league average of 11.6%.

His slider has been key. Gibson has a 27.9% swinging strike rate with the pitch, seventh amongst pitchers who’ve thrown at 200 of them this season.

Other notes:

— The rest of the division hasn’t posed much of a threat this year: The Twins are a combined 16-8 against Chicago, Detroit and Kansas City, while the Indians are 18-12.

— Both teams are keeping their pitch counts down. Indians pitchers are averaging just 16.35 pitches per inning this season, second in the AL, while the Twins are averaging 16.46, which ranks fourth.

— Indians starter Mike Clevinger has been roughed up on the road a couple times since returning from a back injury. Clevinger allowed five earned runs in 4 2/3 during a loss to the Rangers on June 17, his first appearance since April 7. He allowed seven earned runs in just 1 2/3 innings in his next start, on June 28. Clevinger bounced back against Kansas City on July 3, allowing just four hits over six innings.

— Right fielder Max Kepler leads the Twins with 21 home runs and has been tough to put away this season. Kepler has a .739 OPS with two strikes, good for fourth in the AL.

— Twins shortstop Jorge Polanco and Indians first baseman Carlos Santana, both All-Stars, have thrived against right-handers this season. Santana has a .968 OPS against righties, fifth in the AL, while Polanco ranks sixth with a .964 OPS.

Statistics via Sportradar and Inside Edge