FORT MYERS, FLA. – Kyle Gibson is healthy, but just not ready.
The righthander was optioned to Class AAA Rochester on Thursday with orders to smooth out some rough edges in his game and wait for a call to the majors. He’s put his 2011 Tommy John elbow surgery well into the rearview mirror. The decision to send him back to Rochester was based on performance, as he had a 9.00 ERA in eight innings of work.
He threw three wild pitches in one inning on March 7 against Philadelphia and gave up a run in two innings of work Wednesday against Baltimore.
With other starting pitching candidates like righthanders Cole De Vries and P.J. Walters having strong camps — each pitcher has thrown seven scoreless innings — the decision was made for Gibson to join Rochester.
Gibson, 25, packed up his equipment and headed straight to the minor league complex to work out. He’ll throw in the bullpen on Friday.
“I understand that they have to send guys down at some point,’’ he said. “They had seven or eight starters over there, so not everyone is going to stay. I think it was something where they found a couple things I need to work on, so I am going to work on them and hopefully get up there as soon as I can.’’
The highly anticipated debut of Gibson, the 22nd overall pick in 2009, is now on hold. Many wanted to know how the Twins would handle Gibson’s workload going into his first full season after elbow surgery. Twins General Manager Terry Ryan cautioned that Gibson needed to make the team first before they worried about how to use him, a statement that makes Ryan look wise.
“Velocity was impressive, power on his slider was impressive, he’s got a good feel for the changeup, and now it’s just a matter of a little damage control, and location, and a little time,’’ Ryan said.
There’s a belief that, wherever Gibson starts the season, his limit will be around 120 to 130 innings because of the surgery, although Ryan has denied that.
If Gibson doesn’t get called up until late June and remains in the majors, there’s a good chance that he would not qualify for an extra year of arbitration following the 2015 season, which would save the Twins money in the long run. Ryan also has denied that arbitration eligibility factors in the team’s decisionmaking.
“In my meeting with T.R., he said, ‘Listen, we’re not going to baby you,’ ’’ Gibson said. “ ‘You are going to go out there. We will find ways to save innings here and there, but you are going to go out there and throw and we’ll see what your innings are and what point we want to make that decision.’
“I was very thankful,” Gibson said. “I feel like I got a fair shot. I got plenty of innings and a chance to show my stuff. Didn’t throw as well as I wanted to, but they gave me some things to work on and that is what I am going to do.’’
The Twins move forward with righthanders Mike Pelfrey, Vance Worley and Kevin Correia as part of the rotation. Another spot will be taken by Scott Diamond when he fully recovers from having a bone chip removed from his elbow in December. Diamond hopes to make his season debut around April 12, so the Twins will need a spot starter on April 7.
That leaves one full-time spot available, with De Vries, Walters and righthander Liam Hendriks battling for it. While De Vries and Walters have pitched well, Hendriks has had up and down outings while posting a 5.73 ERA in four outings. Righthander Samuel Deduno, currently pitching for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, is also a candidate.
“This is my first experience with all this, and it’s really interesting,’’ De Vries said. “I know I’m pitching Saturday, and that’s about all I know.’’
While this is a setback for Gibson, the Twins talked as if they can’t wait for the day they can call him up for his debut.
“He has some of the best stuff in this camp,’’ Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “As you can see, he just needs to pitch.’’