March 17, 2018

Has Kyle Gibson finally turned a corner?

A strong second half in 2017, a strong spring training this year, and falling short of his salary demands during arbitration just might make Kyle Gibson hungry enough to put his largely .500 career behind him and win more consistently.

The Twins, who drafted him in the first round of the 2009 amateur daft, have waited patiently — some might say too patiently — for their first-round pick to emerge a star. To his credit, he has been reliable, pitching more than 700 innings mostly without injury. And yet for his career he is 44-48 with a 4.70 ERA, hardly the stuff of legend.

But something changed last season…

After a disastrous first half of the season in which he went 5-7 with a 6.31 ERA, Gibson won a trip to Triple-A Rochester, while I was calling for his head. But he quickly reminded everyone that he belongs in the bigs after he appeared in three games and pitched to the tune of a 2.08 ERA  and struck out 23 batters in 17 innings. He was recalled to Minnesota and flipped a switch.

What happened? Was it the lousy first half or was the demotion a wake up call? Whatever it was, Gibson pitched well down the stretch — so well that I doubt the Twins would have made the playoffs without him. He finished 7-3 with a 3.76 ERA and struck out 70 batters in 76 innings, or a strikeout rate of 8.2 per nine innings, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

And after that strong second half, there appears to be no let down this spring. Gibson on Thursday breezed through the Tampa Bay Rays’ lineup, striking out five in five innings with one earned run allowed. He exited with a 1.80 ERA. The Twins backed him with 10 hits, including extra-base hits from four players, and the team rolled, 8-1.

Extra innings…

-It was payback Friday after the Rays pounded the Twins 11-1. Twins pitcher Jose Berrios was OK, striking out four in three-plus innings. He allowed three runs, but only one was earned because the Twins committed three errors. The bullpen, though, got hit hard.

Taylor Rogers allowed three runs (two earned) and Trevor Hildenberger, otherwise known as “Hildy” to some, also gave up three runs, all of them earned. Rogers and Hildy pitched well last season, but it’s been tough going this spring. Rogers has an ERA of 7.88, while Hildy’s has ballooned to 10.29.

COMMENTS

Hi, I’m Rolf Boone, Twins fan.

I became a fan of the Minnesota Twins after a friendly wager in the early 1980s. I survived Ron Davis, the meltdown in Cleveland, Phil Bradley at the Kingdome and then marveled at a rising generation of stars and two World Series wins in 1987 and 1991. Brad Radke made the 1990s bearable, while Kirby Puckett’s eye injury, exit from the game and eventual death made it almost too much to bear. The new century ushered in more talent — Joe Mauer, Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Torii Hunter, Justin Morneau — and consecutive seasons of playoff baseball, followed by consecutive seasons of losing baseball. A winning season returned in 2015. So here we are. Go Twins.