MINNEAPOLIS — Nine years after drafting Kyle Gibson in the first round and six seasons into his major league career, the faith the Minnesota Twins have had in the lanky right-hander has finally been rewarded on a consistent basis.
He's gained a greater level of confidence in himself, too.
Gibson struck out nine batters over eight easy innings for the Twins, who handed Tampa Bay ace Blake Snell his shortest start of the season and beat the Rays 5-1 on Thursday night after a two-hour rain delay.
"Just had to add to the caffeine and keep the body loose," Gibson said.
Eddie Rosario hit a two-run homer in the seventh against reliever Chih-Wei Hu for more cushion, but Gibson (4-6) was already well in control on his way to consecutive wins for the first time this year. He gave up five hits without a walk, and the only run he permitted came on a sacrifice fly by Kevin Kiermaier in the eighth.
"Hopefully he pitches as well in the second half," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said, "and gets a lot more wins to show for it."
Fernando Rodney relieved Ryan Pressly in the ninth to get the last two outs and his 21st save, preserving the seventh victory in eight games for the Twins.
The Rays had their five-game winning streak stopped after a rare clunker from Snell (12-5), who lasted only three innings and threw just 43 of 75 pitches for strikes.
The lefty took the second-lowest ERA in the American League into the game, with just two runs allowed over his last 28 2/3 innings while winning each of his last four turns. But he was in trouble every inning and found himself trailing 3-0 after back-to-back RBI doubles by Robbie Grossman and Jorge Polanco in the third.
"For whatever reason, he just wasn't able to make the pitches that we've seen him make so many times this year," manager Kevin Cash said.
Snell wasn't so upset about the early hook as he was about his own mechanical trouble that he believes he could've prevented.
"It was just a lot of me making mental errors and not correcting them as fast as I should have," Snell said. "They capitalized."
The Twins hustled through that third inning. Brian Dozier singled and took second on a wild pitch. Then as he attempted to steal third, Grossman swung at a high pitch for an awkward-but-effective hit-and-run. Polanco later stole third base, too, though he was ultimately stranded.
"You've got to try to create against him when you get a chance," Molitor said.
Gibson took it from there, continuing his renaissance with his longest start on the 2018 ledger. He dropped his ERA to 3.42, more than a full run lower than his career mark. He also has by far the best strikeout rate of his career, just short of an average of one per inning.
After getting sent down to Triple-A Rochester twice last season, Gibson worked with a sports psychologist. He began to rediscover his fastball command and, more importantly, his self-esteem on the mound. Gibson gave up more than three runs only once in his last 12 starts of 2017.
"I was putting too much stress on myself and putting too much importance on being great or being really good and losing sight of what I needed to do," he said.
The Rays sent rookie shortstop Willy Adames, one of the organization's top prospects, back to Triple-A Durham before the game. There's a playing-time pinch in the infield, and Adames has been struggling at the plate. Cash said the demotion "was a really hard decision" for the team.
"We thought we were going to be able to do a better job of creating a lane," Cash said.
The Rays used the roster spot to recall Hu, acquired in a trade with the Twins for reliever Kevin Jepsen in 2015.
Rays: SS Christian Arroyo wasn't deemed ready to come off the DL to replace Adames. Arroyo is on a rehab assignment for a strained left oblique, and he exited early from his game Thursday night at Durham with an injury to his left hand.
Twins: DH-1B Logan Morrison was put on the DL for a nagging hip problem that he expects won't require more than the minimum 10-day stay. "It's been manageable and still is manageable," he said. "Just need to take a step back and use the break as some time without missing games."
Rays: RHP Nathan Eovaldi (3-3, 3.35 ERA) pitches the second game of the series, coming off a stellar start against the Mets last weekend when he retired his first 18 batters and finished with only one hit allowed, no runs and nine strikeouts in seven innings.
Twins: RHP Jake Odorizzi (4-6, 4.28 ERA) takes the mound on Friday night, facing his former team for the first time. Odorizzi, traded to the Twins in February, pitched six scoreless innings in his last turn against the Orioles for his first win in 11 starts.