Kyle Gibson made 18 starts before the All-Star Game. You could eliminate the thumb on one hand and count the clunkers.
There was a run of six starts before the midsummer break where Gibson’s effort rated from good to excellent. He had pitched 113⅔ innings and was headed for his first 200-inning season.
The Twins decided to come out of the All-Star respite with Erv Santana and Tommy Milone as the first two starters. This gave Gibson nine days between starts and it seemed like a wise move to give his right arm a chance to freshen up.
It didn’t turn out that way.
Throw out a bad first start in Detroit and Gibson had 17 starts from April 15 to July 12 with these numbers: 8-5 with a 2.45 ERA, and 94 hits in 110 innings for a .232 opponent batting average.
Then, in his first six starts after the nine-day refresher, Gibson was 0-3 with a 7.91 ERA, and 42 hits in 33 innings for a .309 opponent average. The last of those was Aug. 17 at Yankee Stadium, when the Twins gave Gibson a 6-2 lead after 4½ innings and he couldn’t hold it.
This was a trend that the Twins couldn’t afford to see continue. Phil Hughes had gone on the disabled list because of a bad back Aug. 13. Santana was in the midst of a six-game stretch (still ongoing) in which he is 0-4 with a 9.20 ERA.
The rest of the rotation was Milone, Mike Pelfrey and rookie Tyler Duffey. If Gibson remained in the tank, the Twins had no one that any other playoff contender would consider to be a top-three starter.
Yes, Pelfrey has been good more often than bad, and Milone is plucky, and Duffey managed a couple of good starts, and Santana can’t possibly be this lousy, but the starter with the best chance to be fully reliable is Gibson.
The Twins didn’t recover from Gibson’s blowup in that opening loss to the Yankees and they left the Bronx looking as dead as a team could get.
Lo and behold, they ran into a stumbling collection of Orioles in Baltimore and won four in a row. In Game 3 of that sweep, Gibson went 5⅔ innings and gave up two runs.
On Friday night, the Twins came home from a 6-4 road trip, with Houston — the surprise leader of the AL West — waiting with outstanding lefthander Scott Kazmir as Gibson’s opponent.
As in Baltimore, Gibson threw a hefty number of pitches, but again he went 5⅔ innings and this time did not allow a run. The Twins went to the bullpen for the next 10 outs — including three from Glen Perkins in the seventh inning — for a 3-0 victory.
Gibson has not been the horse the Twins were riding before the All-Star Game, but that is now two clutch starts in a row that have led to victories.
Getting the 6-6 righthander back on his game is more than a benefit to the Twins; it’s a 100 percent necessity.
Manager Paul Molitor was asked about Gibson’s status with this rotation and said: “The way it’s gone lately, where some of our starters haven’t been effective, you would think he would be a leader out there.”
This wasn’t a shot at Gibson; rather, it was confirmation by the manager that Gibson is the most talented starter available at the moment.
Molitor was a bit distressed that Gibson’s pitch count had gotten to 110 with two outs in the sixth Friday, and he had to go to Brian Duensing to finish the inning with two runners on.
The manager cited an 11-pitch at-bat to Jake Marisnick after Gibson had him 0-2, and a foul pop-up that Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe didn’t see, as happenings that added to the pitch total.
“We would like to see Kyle more aggressive with the fastball early in the count,” Molitor said. “Sometimes, he gets a little too cute rather than going with that good fastball.”
Gibson was asked if two straight strong starts — even if they both were only 5⅔ innings — have him feeling as if he is back to where he was before the All-Star break.
“It’s getting back, although my fastball isn’t quite where I want it to be,” he said. “I will say that any time you leave an outing healthy without giving up a run, it’s a good night.”