FORT MYERS, FLA. – Kyle Gibson had to suspend part of his offseason conditioning program. When he did work out, he made sure he was near a bathroom.
And in the final weeks before the start of spring training, the Twins righthander needed a colonoscopy to ensure he didn't have anything other than E. coli, an infection he contracted during an offseason mission trip to the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
"Ugh," Gibson said with a slight shake of his head. "Not fun."
Gibson spoke Monday, after throwing in the bullpen at the CenturyLink Sports Complex. He'll be able to begin workouts with the other pitchers and catchers Thursday as spring training officially kicks off. But he'll go through an intensive strength and conditioning program to make sure he's in shape to start the season.
"With him losing a little bit of weight, we're just going to be really thoughtful at the front end," said Derek Falvey, the Twins chief baseball officer. "So I think you would probably imagine him, based on his performance in our rotation, what his progression would be out of the chute. It might be a little bit behind that."
Not the optimal way to start the season after going 10-13 with a career-low 3.62 ERA and a career-high 179 strikeouts. At 31, Gibson is in his prime and, by all indications, has figured some things out about pitching going into his seventh season with the Twins. He's made himself a candidate for a multiyear contract extension, which could be addressed in the coming weeks.
He's part of a starting rotation that has some potential. It's led by All-Star Jose Berrios and includes bounce-back candidates in righthanders Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda. Free-agent lefthander Martin Perez is earmarked for the No. 5 spot.
With Berrios the clear No. 1, Gibson will be relied on to improve upon the success of last season, when he thrived by spotting all four of his pitches in each corner of the strike zone.
But the repercussions of the infection will make it challenging for him to pick up where he left off.
That leads to a question: How exactly did Gibson pick up E. coli?
He's been on mission trips before, and he was joined at times on this particular journey by Twins minor league righthander Jake Reed; Aaron Slegers, who was with the Twins last season but was claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh; and lefthander Zach Duke, who started last season with the Twins before being dealt to Seattle during a deadline-week purge.
"I don't think it was food because I think back to what I ate, and I ate some things that everyone else ate," Gibson said.
"We were in an area that's not exactly developed, so who knows what style of bathrooms they had. Whether it was playing catch with a kid and you don't sanitize my hands fast enough before I ate a granola bar. It can happen that easy. So that's kind of what I was thinking it was."
Gibson didn't feel well toward the end of the trip, and found out right after he returned Jan. 9 that he had E. coli.
He didn't feel normal again until the end of the month, which knocked him out of an appearance at TwinsFest.
"Normally what they do is they give you an antibiotic which kills the E. coli, but the E. coli strain I had carries something called the Shiga toxin," Gibson said. "If you take the antibiotic, it kills the E. coli but releases the toxin into your body, which would start shutting down kidneys and going after your organs, so that's why it lasted so long because I wasn't allowed to take any antibiotics. I had to just have E. coli for three weeks."
Gibson endured back problems before the start of 2018 spring training and had to reduce his conditioning program. But he jumped into workouts once he arrived at camp and was ready by Opening Day. He said he feels he can take the same approach this spring and be ready by the March 28 season opener.
New Twins pitching coach Wes Johnson said the club will proceed cautiously with Gibson. He's an important part of the rotation, and it's more pragmatic to set him up for the long grind of the season than rush him.
"I don't care if you make five starts in spring training," Johnson said. "I don't care if you make four or three. Our goal is to get 32 when the season starts, not come in and say I made six [spring] starts. We're not trying to get this guy going like that."