FORT MYERS, Fla. – When Dan Jennings left a slow breaking ball over the plate, Mitch Garver pounced on it. That’s a side of the rookie catcher that Paul Molitor had been waiting to see.
Garver launched a long home run onto the left-field berm at Hammond Stadium, part of a four-run fourth inning that helped the Twins pull off their first Grapefruit League victory of the season, 5-4 over the Rays on Sunday.
Eduardo Escobar doubled home two runs, outfield prospect LaMonte Wade broke a tie with a two-out double to right and Kyle Gibson, Addison Reed and Zack Littell made a good impression in their spring debuts. But it was Garver, who hit 17 home runs at Class AAA Rochester last season but none in a month with the Twins, who most encouraged Molitor.
“Mitch will tell you he’s looking for situations to turn on more balls. We all know he can spray it pretty well,” Molitor said of the projected backup to Jason Castro. “He’s got power, which we didn’t see a lot of last year when he came up. He’s just trying to know when to take his shots.”
Meanwhile, Gibson was limited to 30 pitches in his two-inning stint. That he only got halfway to that low ceiling is a positive sign for him.
“That’s the goal — get in the zone and get them in swing mode,” said Gibson, a favorite to retain his spot in the back end of Minnesota’s rotation. “It’s early in spring training, but those kind of quick at-bats only come if you’re executing pitches in the zone.”
Gibson stuck to nothing but fastballs in the first inning, getting ahead of all three batters and recording three easy outs. He mixed in a few sinkers in the second inning, but three routine grounders later, his brief day was over. He threw an additional dozen pitches or so in the bullpen to reach his workload assignment for the day.
“I’m just trying to stay with that feeling, with that approach,” Gibson said. “I definitely want to get off to a better start this year.”