DETROIT – Kyle Gibson came to Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson with a question last month: When will you let me throw more than 100 pitches in a game?
“I said, ‘We’ll let you know,’ ” Gardenhire said. “We let him know last night.”
They did, and at one of the most critical moments of Friday’s victory. Gibson was protecting a 1-0 lead in the seventh, his pitch count approaching triple digits, when Alex Avila doubled to center. Rajai Davis pinch ran for the catcher, and Torii Hunter was sent up to pinch hit. In the dugout, Gardenhire considered ending Gibson’s night.
“I thought about it for a minute,” Gardenhire said. Instead, he decided to ride with his second-year starter awhile longer, a decision that feels like a legitimate milestone for the 26-year-old Missouri grad. “Young pitchers, they have to learn from these things,” Gardenhire said. “They have to get these big outs.”
Gibson did, retiring Hunter and then, with his 110th pitch — the most he has thrown in a professional game — got Ian Kinsler to ground out.
Gibson said he appreciated the workload — and the faith.
“It definitely gives you confidence as a starter when they leave you in there,” he said. “From a development standpoint, that’s going to be big for me.”
Gardenhire and Anderson are showing their faith in Gibson, too. His three highest pitch counts of the season have come in his past four starts, a gradual ramping up for a pitcher who underwent Tommy John elbow surgery in 2011. And he can tell.
“I had to dig down in the last inning to make pitches, because I was getting tired,” he said. “But I still had enough left to get guys out.”
Dozier sits, then hits
Brian Dozier said he woke up without the nagging pain in his lower back Saturday, and after taking a few swings in the batting cage, informed Gardenhire that he is ready to play.
Gardenhire, though, wanted the Twins second baseman to prove it first. “I want to see him go through [batting practice] more than anything,” something Dozier had not done since Tuesday, the manager said. “He hasn’t taken a ground ball. He hasn’t run. All he’s done is taken a few swings in the cage and said, ‘I’m OK.’ ”
Dozier didn’t get another day off, though. He was forced into the lineup when Eduardo Nunez strained a hamstring in the eighth inning. Given a chance to prove he’s healthy, Dozier drilled a pitch into the left field seats, a two-run shot that gives him 15 home runs this year.
Dozier’s absence from the starting lineup had another side effect: It enabled Danny Santana to play his preferred position. Santana, the Twins’ center fielder in 17 games this season, started at shortstop Saturday, with Eduardo Escobar moving to second base.
Fien fitting in
The Tigers may marvel at the bullpen cornerstone that Casey Fien has become, may tell themselves that he throws harder now than when he was in Detroit.
But Fien says the difference is in his head, not his arm.
“When I was here, I wasn’t very mature. I thought I could get guys out like I had at Triple-A,” said Fien, whose Tigers career consisted of 14 runs allowed in 14 innings pitched. “I was throwing 95 [mph] back then, just as hard as now. But I’ve learned: a first-pitch strike is the key to getting guys out.”
Using that bit of wisdom, Fien has posted a 3.02 ERA in three seasons with the Twins, including 2.22 so far this year. So does it still mean anything to him to beat his old team?
“Oh yeah, it still does,” Fien said. “That doesn’t go away.”