Not many pitchers get the opportunity Kyle Gibson has today. An awful April cost him his major league job, and when rainouts forced the Twins to call him back up, he managed to raise his ERA from 8.20 to 8.62 in Baltimore. But with Phil Hughes injured, Gibson is once again the recipient of a huge opportunity: He’ll start today against the Rays, and if he pitches well, it’s not hard to picture him remaining in the rotation awhile.
He’s earned these opportunities with the flashes of effectiveness he’s shown in the past, particularly in a promising 2015 season and again in spring training this year. But those instances are two years ago, or were exhibition games, so patience is running out.
Paul Molitor chose to put a positive gloss on Gibson’s six-run, five-inning outing against the Orioles, noting that the defense made mistakes behind him. “The good part of that game was that he regrouped, [and] found a way to finish on a positive note,” Molitor said. “This will be a good test for him against a good hitting team, a good low-ball hitting team, and he’s a low-ball guy. So he’s going to have to move it around, and execute, and hopefully pitch from ahead today.”
That’s critical for most pitchers, but particularly Gibson. When he gets ahead in the count 0-1, hitters bat .281 against him, and .176 if they put the next pitch in play. If he’s behind 1-0, however, he’s being savaged: .441 from that point, and .538 if batters put the 1-0 pitch in play. His history against the Rays isn’t particularly promising, either; Gibson owns a 7.82 ERA in five starts against Tampa Bay, and 7.15 at Target Field.
While Gibson is working to regain his standing with his team, Miguel Sano will be watching from the dugout for a second straight day. Molitor even called Sano this morning before he headed to the ballpark, just to let him know.
There’s nothing wrong with Sano, health-wise, Molitor said, but the manager is trying to avoid having his best hitter spiral into a slump that lasts for weeks instead of a few days. With 42 games to play over the next 42 days, the numbers can pile up quickly, and Sano is already 0-for-14, with 11 strikeouts, since blasting a long home run in Baltimore last Monday.
“I try to measure whether one day was a good mental recharger for him. He’s been grinding it pretty good all the way back to spring training. [It’s] just to back him off for a couple days,” Molitor said. “His swing’s been off, he’s been fouling off balls and all those things. [It’s] just to take the mental stress off for a couple days and come back strong tomorrow.”
Both teams are wearing the green camouflage-themed uniforms and hats again today in honor of Memorial Day, and the Twins and Astros will wear them tomorrow, too. Here are the lineups for Sunday’s series finale with Tampa Bay: