Terry Ryan grimaced Tuesday as he considered the state of his last-place pitching staff, and how it might look in 2015.
“I don’t know what kind of rotation depth we have. I’ll let you know around Oct. 1,” the Twins general manager said. “We need a little bit more productivity out of the rotation before you start anointing jobs [for next year]. We have names. We have bodies. We have participants.”
He didn’t necessarily mean to indict Kyle Gibson among the “participants,” but it was only an hour later before the 26-year-old righthander proved his point. Handed a five-run lead in the first inning, Gibson and the bullpen gave it all back by the sixth, and the Twins lost for the fourth time in five games, 7-5 to the Cleveland Indians.
Gibson, who has dominated the opposition a dozen times this season by holding them to zero or one run, this time was the sloppy, hittable version that so mystifies the Twins, the one who has now given up five or more runs nine times. He put at least one runner on base in every inning, gave up a run on a wild pitch and surrendered his first home run since Aug. 3.
“I didn’t have my best stuff tonight. I was battling,” Gibson said after the Twins fell to a season-worst 14 games below .500 (55-69). “I definitely didn’t do a good job of pitching with the lead.”
Gibson inflated his ERA to 4.13 by giving up five runs on eight hits over 5⅓ innings, and pushed the rotation’s ERA to a collective 5.05 — worse than every AL team but Texas.
No wonder Ryan seems so dour when the topic of pitching comes up. “There’s no question we’ve had issues with our rotation for far too many years now,” Ryan said. “And it’s there for many people to grab on to.”
So consider these next six weeks to be an early audition for 2015. Gibson probably doesn’t have to worry about a job, but that doesn’t mean the Twins are satisfied with his season. Or his game Tuesday.
“You’ve got to pitch, and you’ve got to stop them, and we didn’t do a very good job of that,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “It looked like [Gibson] was trying not to give up runs, rather than just pitching, attacking.”
The Twins gave him a cushion, scoring five runs before Cleveland starter Trevor Bauer even recorded an out. Joe Mauer slugged a ground-rule double to score a run, Kennys Vargas drove in another with a sharp single, and Oswaldo Arcia feasted on a first-pitch changeup, clobbering it onto the right-field plaza, his third consecutive game with a homer.
But Bauer went into lockdown mode from there, retiring the next 14 hitters he faced; only one Twins batter reached third base after the first inning.
“We score five in the first, and — nothing,” Gardenhire said. “You can’t shut down on a team like that.”
Not when Gibson isn’t commanding the strike zone. He surrendered a home run to Yan Gomes in the second inning, then escaped a second-and-third situation in the third. Three singles in the fourth inning produced two runs, and Michael Bourn’s leadoff double in the fifth turned into Cleveland’s fourth run when Gibson threw a two-out wild pitch.
“He yanked that about as bad as you can yank a pitch,” Gardenhire said. “It’s not in the area code. Whether he squeezed the ball too tight, you can’t let that happen.”
The Twins’ lead finally vanished in the sixth inning, when Gibson gave up a one-out single to Gomes. Brian Duensing relieved, but three of the next four hitters collected hits, the biggest one by pinch hitter Tyler Holt. His double to deep center scored two runs and put the Indians ahead for the first time, 6-5. Bourn followed with a run-scoring hit as well, giving Cleveland seven unanswered runs.
“It’s frustrating to watch,” Gardenhire said. “That shouldn’t happen.”