Twins’ Gibson pitches a gem, nearly goes the distance

Twins starter Kyle Gibson pitched eight scoreless innings in Thursday's win over the Blue Jays, lowering his ERA to 0.93.

Ann Heisenfelt/AP

MINNEAPOLIS — Kyle Gibson wanted to go the distance.

The Minnesota Twins right-hander was through eight scoreless innings Thursday against Toronto and had thrown 105 pitches. It was his best start as a major leaguer, and Gibson felt he still had plenty in the tank to pitch one more inning.

Unfortunately for Gibson, Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson had other ideas.

"Andy came up to me and said, ‘Hey, give me a hug.’ I said, ‘Why?’" Gibson said. "He says, ‘Well, you’re done.’ I said, ‘I don’t feel done. . . . Just give me 10 pitches.’ He said, ‘If I give you 10 pitches, then you’re going to be at 115 in the third start of the season, so that’s not going to happen.’

"I tried, but I didn’t win that one."

Twins 7, Blue Jays 0

What Gibson did win, however, was his third ballgame of the season as Minnesota took care of Toronto by a 7-0 final, thanks in large part to Gibson’s dominance of the Blue Jays. While he came just an inning shy of a shutout, it did mark the longest start of his young Twins career. 

Three times through the rotation, Gibson has been the shining star of the pitching staff. His eight scoreless innings Thursday lowered his ERA to a miniscule 0.93. Gibson allowed just four hits and struck out four while walking only one batter en route to his most complete outing in a Twins uniform.

"I think you probably saw maybe three pitches all day where he really misfired totally, and every time he did it he really tried to hump up and let one fly," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. "The rest of the time, the ball was just around the zone, in and out, just missing."

Gibson had the dubious honor of starting in what turned out to be the coldest outdoor game in Twins history. The temperature when Gibson threw his first pitch was 31 degrees Fahrenheit, one degree colder than the previous low in the club’s history. The old record of 32 degrees was set back in 1967 at Metropolitan Stadium in a game against the Yankees.

Pitching in the cold was nothing new to Gibson, though. The Indiana native starred for the University of Missouri and twice pitched in games while it was snowing.

"I was prepared for it a little bit," Gibson said. "Especially toward the end, I was thinking about going nine innings. I wasn’t thinking about the cold."

Gibson’s best pitch Thursday was his sinker, a big reason he got 12 ground-ball outs compared to six outs on fly balls. That was the case in the eighth inning where he worked around a leadoff single by getting Ryan Goins to ground into a double play to the shortstop, and then induced a groundout by Melky Cabrera to end the eighth.

The 26-year-old Gibson is at his best when his sinker is working like it did Thursday. The pitch seemed especially effective in the cold weather against Toronto’s batters, who didn’t reach second base after the second inning.

"I think I’m the warmest guy on the field at that point. I’m moving around every pitch, and it makes a big difference," Gibson said. "Normally hitters don’t like the fastball inside when it’s cold and getting jammed. Having a sinker, I love throwing that inside."

Coming into spring training, Gibson was one of several candidates for the Twins’ No. 5 spot in the starting rotation. Though his numbers in his rookie season last year were less than impressive, Gibson’s strong camp in Fort Myers led to him earning that job to open the season.

Gibson, a first-round pick by the Twins in 2009, was touted for years as one of Minnesota’s top pitching prospects; fans anxiously awaited his arrival in the majors, which finally came last season. Now 26 years old and with 13 big league starts under his belt, Gibson can’t be considered a prospect anymore. 

Given the way he’s started the 2014 season, Gibson is showing he indeed belongs in the majors.

"Eric Rasmussen, our pitching coordinator, always said, ‘If you’re a prospect, then you’re somebody that hasn’t done anything yet,’" Gibson said. "The prospect label’s great, obviously. It’s an honor to be considered a top prospect. But I think I’m at that age where I’m ready to establish myself in the big leagues.

"I think I learned a lot over my time in the minor leagues, but I don’t want to go back and I want to keep doing what I’m doing to try to avoid that."

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