Preview: Twins vs. Mariners

MINNEAPOLIS — Right-hander Kyle Gibson takes the mound Thursday afternoon as the Minnesota Twins return to Target Field to face the Seattle Mariners in their 2018 home opener.

Gibson had a huge second half in 2017, going 7-3 with 3.76 ERA over his final 13 starts, striking out 70 with just 22 walks in 76 2/3 innings.

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He carried that into his first start this season, holding Baltimore scoreless over five innings. Gibson (1-0, 0.00 ERA) didn’t allow a hit but walked five batters while striking out six in the Twins’ 6-2 victory.

“I tried to be as similar to the end of last year as possible,” Gibson said. “Even when it was 2-0, or 2-1, I had confidence with my fastball in the strike zone instead of getting them to chase it. Hopefully, that’s going to be the thing this year, that I can look back on it and say through all the struggles of 2017 that’s what I learned and that’s when I turned it around.”

He’ll need to be ready for more than just a good Mariners lineup; the temperature Thursday in Minneapolis is forecast to be 39 degrees with a possibility of snow.

“Snowing and cold is better than not snowing and cold,” Gibson said, taking a position that few fans would probably agree with. “It’s going to be brutally cold, (but maybe) there is going to be some cool snow, too.”

Gibson was 2-0 with a 5.25 ERA in two starts against Seattle last season. He gave up 17 hits and three walks over 12 innings in those two starts, but Minnesota won both. He is 4-2 with a 3.49 ERA in eight career starts against the Mariners.

First baseman Joe Mauer will be back in the Twins’ lineup Thursday. Manager Paul Molitor held the veteran out of the Twins’ 7-3 victory at Pittsburgh Wednesday to have him fresh for the home opener.

The Mariners will be looking to bounce back after a 10-1 drubbing Thursday afternoon at San Francisco. Left-hander James Paxton (0-1, 11.57 ERA) gets his second turn of the season in the contest. He is also looking to bounce back after giving up six runs on six hits, including a pair of home runs, in his season debut last week against Cleveland.

Mike Zunino, who has caught 53 of Paxton’s 75 big league starts and many more in the minors, is recovering from an oblique injury and won’t be behind the plate Thursday. Paxton threw to Mike Marjama against the Indians and will likely work with David Freitas against the Twins.

“They caught me quite a bit in spring training so we’ve had conversations about what I want to do,” Paxton said. “But they are obviously still learning me. It’s also my responsibility to talk to them and tell them what I like to do. I do my report and stuff and I will go over that with whoever is catching me tomorrow. I just have to be very clear what my plan is and how I want to attack hitters.”

Paxton was able to get a little more sleep than his teammates, who arrived in Minneapolis late Wednesday night after a 4:15 p.m. start on the West Coast. Paxton flew into Minnesota earlier in the day, but he’ll have to battle the weather, too.

“I will just try to stay warm in between innings,” Paxton said. “I think when I’m out there pitching, I’ll be fine because I’ll be moving around and staying warm. In between innings, I will have my jacket on and stay by the heat.”

Paxton has three career starts against the Twins, going 2-1 with a 2.70 ERA. He faced them just once last season, earning a victory despite allowing three runs on five hits and a walk over five innings of work.