FORT MYERS, FLA. – The Big Ticket was in the Twin Cities about a month before Kevin Garnett was traded back to the Timberwolves. Well, sort of.
During a Twins winter caravan stop, righthander Kyle Gibson, somehow, had just learned that former Twin Dan Gladden’s nickname was “Dazzle.” So Gibson and Caleb Thielbar used the nickname the rest of the night.
Gladden then decided Gibson needed a new nickname. Gibson has the same initials — KG — as the former NBA MVP, so someone suggested the Big Ticket.
“For the entire caravan [Gladden] would not get off of the Big Ticket,” Gibson said.
Gibson doesn’t believe the nickname fits him — and there can be only one Big Ticket anyway — but he would like to help punch the ticket that gets the Twins out of the American League Central basement and into contention.
After going 13-12 with a 4.47 ERA in 2014 — his first full season in the majors — the 27-year-old Gibson, along with Twins officials, believes he is ready to make another jump.
“There’s a chance this guy can go to the next level,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said.
There’s optimism because Gibson made adjustments following his debut season of 2013, when he went 2-4 with a 5.63 ERA in 10 starts and took some major league lumps.
“The reason for the jump was my focus on executing pitches,” Gibson said. “In 2013 I got caught up in all the information and the scouting reports instead of realizing this is the pitch I need to execute so let’s execute it.”
Gibson became a ground ball-inducing machine last season, giving up 315 of them. That was the fourth most in the American League, behind Rick Porcello and in front of James Shields. Gibson only gave up 12 home runs in 179⅓ innings.
Now he craves consistency. He had a 1.42 ERA in his wins last season and an 11.04 ERA in his losses. If Gibson can improve off 2013, why not limit the extremes in 2015?
“The guy has too good of stuff not to be more consistent,” Ryan said. “I don’t think it’s ‘if’ he makes another jump. He’s going to make a jump. It’s a matter of how high.”
Gibson came to camp last season having to prove he belonged in the Opening Day starting rotation. But he also came to camp with his wife, Elizabeth, very pregnant. Gibson had to focus on both.
It was during a game against Baltimore on March 5 when director of team travel Mike Herman got a call from Elizabeth with a message for her husband that she was in labor. Herman, who was in the stands visiting a friend at the time, had to yell into the bullpen, “Gibby, it’s time.”
“I don’t know if I even showered,” Gibson said. “I just put on my clothes and left.”
A day later, Hayden Leigh was born. She just took her first steps a couple of weeks ago.
“It was a lot [to handle], but I think having priorities made it easier,” Gibson said. “I love baseball, don’t get me wrong. It’s my passion and I feel it’s what God put me here to do. Being a dad is more. Do what I have to do. Away from the field, you’re a dad and you’re a husband. Being able to separate that helps me. I’m able to execute here and execute when I’m home.”
In search of strikeouts
Gibson came to camp with the goal of improving his changeup and throwing it more to righthanded hitters. He admitted that his curveball isn’t where he wants it to be, and he has to come up with something to get hitters off his sinker and slider.
“I don’t want to lose the fact that I give up a lot of ground balls,” Gibson said, “but I also need to find ways to get more strikeouts at certain times.”
Ryan agrees with Gibson’s assessment, saying that averaging 5.9 strikeouts per nine innings is not enough.
“With his stuff, he ought to do more damage than that,” Ryan said.
Gibson might not like being called the Big Ticket in the clubhouse but he could be a big cog in the Twins rotation if he makes the next step in his development.
As Gibson talked last week, a visitor noted the name at the top of Gibson’s clubhouse stall.
Someone had taped “The Big Ticket” over his name. And Gibson had walked around the clubhouse for several days without noticing.
“Who did that?” Gibson said loudly as a couple of teammates laughed. “This is not what I wanted.”