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Kyle Gibson entered the 2011 season as the Twins most hyped pitching prospect since Francisco Liriano. The 24th overall selection in the 2009 draft was expected to make his major league debut that season for a contending team and anchor the staff for years to come.
Nothing went as planned for the franchise in 2011, of course. Instead of contending, the Twins had their worst season in 30 years, losing 99 games. Gibson meanwhile, struggled at Triple A Rochester, going 3-8 with a 4.81 ERA in 18 starts. A sore elbow was blamed and, after rehab attempts proved unsuccessful, the righthander succumbed to Tommy John surgery in November.
Gibson returned in time to make 11 starts at three different levels of the Twins minor league system in 2012 and made his major league debut on June 29 last year. All told, he made 10 starts for the Twins in 2013, posting a 2-4 record with a 6.53 ERA. For the team to climb back to respectability in 2014, they need more from the former 1st round pick.
Now 26, Gibson appears ready to fulfill his promise; he’s 3-1 with a 3.63 ERA in this young season. The 6-6 starter and I chatted at his locker on Friday.
DZ: You are off to a pretty good start this year, your last start (on April 22) maybe didn’t go the way you wanted it to, but other than that, it’s been really good. How are you feeling so far?
GIBSON: I feel pretty good about how the beginning of the season is going. Obviously, like you said, the last start wasn’t exactly how you draw it up, but through a long season you are going to hit bumps and are not going to have your best stuff every time. I think I was a couple of pitches here or there from maybe being able to squeak through more than 3 innings, but that’s how it’s gonna go. I feel like I’ve been more aggressive, been getting ahead of guys better and adjusted a whole lot better than I did last year. I am pretty excited about that.
DZ: This was your first time making an opening day roster, what was that experience like?
GIBSON: That was pretty exciting. I had to stay back and make an extra start on Sunday (March 30) in Florida. I really wanted to make sure I flew up (to Chicago) on Sunday night so I could be there for opening day….Going out there and experiencing all the fans and all the opening day ceremonies at three different places (Chicago, Cleveland, Minnesota) was a lot of fun.
DZ: When did you find out you made the team?
GIBSON: I can’t remember the actual day, but it might have been right after my last start in spring training - it was pretty deep into spring training. I think all of the guys who were competing of the job kind of knew who were the last three or four guys. To even make it that far was a lot of fun. I had Andy (pitching coach Rick Anderson) and Gardy call me in and tell me which day I was starting to start the season.
DZ: Last year you got a little experience, took a few lumps I guess, what do you take away from that?
GIBSON: You can’t get behind guys. Even when I was struggling, whenever I got ahead of guys I was having a lot more success than my numbers showed, but I didn’t get ahead of very many guys. When you are pitching behind big league hitters they are good enough to hit strikes and they are going to hit them hard and pretty often. The one thing I took away from it is make sure you come out aggressive and try to get ahead on that first pitch. Try and dictate the at-bat more than allowing the batter to dictate it.
DZ: Twins fans have been hearing about you for awhile. You were a high draft pick and had the arm injury where you had the Tommy John surgery. Obviously there is the physical rehabilitation you have to go through, but what is the mental part of that like?
GIBSON: I would say the metal side is probably harder than the physical side. The physical side, they lay out for you a pretty good protocol - month by month, week by week. So, you just have to follow that. Mentally, you have to try to stay sharp, you have to try to keep your mind in the game. Being away from your teammates and feeling isolated a little bit during rehab is probably one of the harder parts. I think it was definitely challenging. It was my second arm surgery, I’ve been through it before. That doesn’t make it any easy or harder. You still have to prepare yourself for a solid 8, 9 months of being completely out of competition.
DZ: This year more than past couple of years, there are more veterans on the starting staff. Has anyone taken you under their wing at all?
GIBSON: All of the starting pitchers are pretty good about trying to help me along. They understand that I am young and probably pretty inexperienced and try to keep things on the field…Jokingly they like to make sure I know what I am doing wrong. It’s always good to have guys there who can answer questions and be as honest as they can and try to help you out on day to day stuff.
DZ: One last thing, your number - 44 - is that something you picked?
GIBSON: Well, kinda. I started wearing 44 in college and they gave me a choice of about five numbers and 44 was the best one. My first spring training I think I was maybe 60 or something like that. They told me in 2013 that if I were to come up, they’d give me No. 44. It’s pretty cool and I am glad they did it. I don’t know why, but 44 - I just got used to it.