Kyle Gibson’s first professional season was in 2010, and he went through three levels of the Twins organization. He made three starts at Class AAA Rochester at season’s end, with a 1.72 ERA.
This convinced Twins fans that the No. 1 draft choice from 2009 was ready to make his Minnesota debut in 2011. He started again that season at Rochester and was effective, at the same time a Twins team of high expectations was going off the tracks.
On May 29, Gibson pitched 7 ⅔ innings to beat Lehigh Valley. He allowed three hits, two runs and struck out 10. That put him at 3-2 with a 3.58 ERA in 10 starts, with 59 strikeouts in 55 ⅓ innings.
Back at Target Field, veteran Carl Pavano was struggling to get out of the mid-80s with his fastball, and the Twins were losing 6-5 to the Angels and falling to 17-34.
“Enough,” shouted the discontented Twins followers. “We want Gibson.”
Two years and one month later, they finally got him.
Gibson made his big-league debut on Saturday afternoon at Target Field. It was a windy, wonderful afternoon, and Target Field was close to full (36,881 announced) for one of the few times this season.
The discontent that was burgeoning in late May 2011 has turned into equal parts anger and apathy. There were two lost seasons, largely because of lousy starting pitching, and expectations went from high to none at all.
This did not include Gibson. The Twins loyalists remained anxious to see the 6-6 righthander. The difference was this:
The fans were shouting for the arrival of a 23-year-old with phenom potential in 2011. This time, they were shouting for the arrival of a 25-year-old who was being allowed to devour much of his post-surgery innings limit in Rochester.
The Twins are now saying there’s not an actual limit on Gibson’s total innings, but he did have 92 ⅔ in Rochester and it’s unlikely he will be allowed more than an additional 60 in Minnesota.
Gibson had not started in nine days when he got to the mound Saturday. He had very good juice on his fastball at the get-go, throwing fastballs at nothing but 93 miles per hour in an easy first inning, then reaching 94 in the second.
That’s plenty, when you consider Gibson’s big-league success will be based more on movement on that fastball than blazing speed.
“He throws that sinker inside and it gets there and just goes, ‘Pow,’ ” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It was running so much inside that they were yanking foul balls … he couldn’t get them to put it in play.’’
Gibson made it through the first inning on 12 pitches, then sat for 25 minutes as Kansas City’s Wade Davis threw 53 pitches and the Twins scored five runs in the bottom of the first.
Davis was hooked after throwing an additional 16 pitches and loading the bases with no outs in the second. According to baseball-reference.com, those 69 pitches were the most ever thrown by a pitcher (starter or reliever) who managed only three outs in major league history.
Blessed with that five-spot, Gibson had a 12-pitch second, then things got a bit more complicated. Kansas City’s third inning started with Jarrod Dyson beating out an infield chopper. The Royals had three more singles and scored twice.
Gibson made the mistake of throwing Miguel Tejada a bad breaking ball for a double in the scoreless fourth, threw a double-play sinker in the fifth, and then had a quick sixth.
Gardenhire declared that to be enough. Gibson left with two runs, eight hits, no walks, a hit batsman and five strikeouts — and eventually a 6-2 victory.
“That was all you can ask for in a big-league debut,’’ catcher Joe Mauer said. “He has a great sinker. The slider was good; he will take a little off it, give it a different look. And, the changeup … I liked the change a lot.’’
Mauer and pitching coach Rick Anderson visited Gibson before Mike Moustakas batted with two runs in and two on in the third. Moustakas grounded to second for the third out.
“He had a couple of bad breaks that inning, but he was calm about it,’’ Mauer said. “Great attitude; good guy to work with.’’