Twins rookie Kyle Gibson handles nerves nicely in debut

MINNEAPOLIS — After all the hype, Kyle Gibson’s big day finally came.

For years, fans have been waiting for Gibson, the Twins’ first-round pick in 2009, to make his major league debut. It was perhaps the most anticipated pitching debut in Minnesota since Matt Garza made it to the majors in 2006.

Gibson did not disappoint Saturday, as he earned the victory in Minnesota’s 6-2 win over the visiting Kansas City Royals.

“It was an amazing day, really,” Gibson said of his debut. “I was pretty nervous the last couple days leading up to it. I was able to calm the nerves somehow. I think seeing a couple familiar faces before I started throwing and a little prayer before the game definitely helped me calm my nerves. It was a great day.”

If Gibson had any nerves when he took the mound, they didn’t show. He breezed through his first major league inning, much to the delight of the 36,881 fans in attendance at Target Field — including about 45 friends and family members who made the trip. Gibson got Alex Gordon to fly out to left field on the first pitch of the game. Alcides Escobar then grounded out to short for a quick second out. After allowing his first big league hit on a two-out single by Eric Hosmer, Gibson picked up his first career strikeout by getting Billy Butler to swing at strike three.

By the time Gibson took the mound for the second inning, he was already spotted a five-run lead thanks to his offense. The Twins batted around in the bottom of the first inning against Royals starter Wade Davis, including a two-run double by Justin Morneau and a two-run homer off the bat of Trevor Plouffe.

Minnesota forced Davis to throw 53 pitches in the first inning, which meant Gibson had to wait a while in the dugout before taking the mound again. After sitting through the lengthy bottom of the first, Gibson pitched a scoreless second inning and struck out two more as he worked around a one-out double to Mike Moustakas. He needed just 25 pitches to get through his first two innings and clearly wasn’t thrown off by the long first inning.

“At that point, I wasn’t being too picky. We were putting up runs,” Gibson said of the long inning. “I’ll definitely take the run support. … Big help. I can’t say enough about my teammates, going out there and getting a big lead early.”

Working with a 6-0 lead, Gibson gave up a pair of runs in the top of the third. Jarrod Dyson led off with an infield single and stole second base. He then scored on Escobar’s base hit up the middle. After Gibson struck out Butler for the second time, he surrendered an RBI single off the bat of Salvador Perez that cut the Twins’ lead to 6-2.

From there, Gibson shut the Royals down for three innings. He got some help from his defense, including a nice diving stop by shortstop Pedro Florimon to end the sixth inning. Gibson’s pitch count was at just 91 pitches, but as the Twins plan to monitor his innings closely the rest of the year, it was decided that his day was done after six.

“He pretty much did what we hoped he could do,” said manager Ron Gardenhire. “We get him through six innings and I think (pitching coach Rick Anderson) felt that was enough. I was fine with that. We kind of hung on from there.”

Gibson became the first Twins pitcher to win his major league debut since Anthony Swarzak did so in 2009. More surprisingly, Gibson is the first Minnesota pitcher taken in the first round to win his debut. Nine other first-round picks have debuted before him, most recently in 2005 when Matt Garza earned a loss in his first major league start.

Before his start, Gibson joined the Twins on Tuesday in Miami to give him a few days to get acclimated to life in the big leagues and get into some sort of a routine leading up to Saturday.

“I think him coming up early to kind of see how things are done up here was definitely beneficial for him,” said catcher Joe Mauer, who was behind the plate for Gibson’s debut. “I think everybody in this room knows that feeling of the first day they step out there and the nerves are going. But he handled it about as good as you could.”

The Twins took Gibson out of the University of Missouri with the 22nd pick in the 2009 draft. He ascended to Triple-A Rochester during his first minor league season in 2010 and pitched there again in 2011. But he suffered a setback on his path to the majors when he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow late in 2011, which kept him out for almost all of 2012.

If not for the elbow injury, Gibson’s debut may very well have come last year instead of Saturday. Gibson has been patient through everything, though, and the Twins have been patient with him.

After all that waiting, Gibson had to be patient for a few more hours when he arrived at Target Field on Saturday morning. Finally, his patience finally paid off.

“I got a little bit antsy because I was just sitting around for three and a half hours,” Gibson said. “The game couldn’t get here quick enough, that’s for sure.”

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