KANSAS CITY, MO. – Kauffman Stadium is where it all began for Kyle Gibson.
Now it could be where his fate is sealed.
Gibson got his first major league win against the Royals in 2013, giving up two runs over six innings, and the Twins hoped their first-round pick in 2009 was going to be a stalwart in their rotation.
But 102 starts into his career, Gibson is 32-41 with a 4.72 ERA. He's 0-3 this season and has the second-highest ERA in baseball (9.00) among starters who have thrown at least 17 innings. That's after going 6-11 with a 5.07 ERA last season.
It has come to this: Gibson might need a solid, if not a strong, outing against the offensively challenged Royals on Friday to ensure his future in the rotation, team personnel have indicated.
Under the new leadership of Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey and General Manager Thad Levine, the Twins already have sent down rookie Adalberto Mejia after only three starts. Gibson, 29, has earned a longer look, but his struggles go back to last season, which included time on the disabled list because of a shoulder strain. But given that he's had only one winning season (13-12 in 2014) and one season with an ERA under 4.00 in his career (3.84 in 2015), his time, too, might be getting short.
"They know what I have been, what I haven't been and what I can be," Gibson said. "They expressed a lot of confidence in me out of spring training, so I'm not getting the cold shoulder. I know they have the confidence in me. That's reassuring.
"That doesn't mean they won't say, 'Hey, go figure it out in Triple-A,' or anything like that. I don't think it makes me immune from that. But knowing the confidence they have in the pitcher that I can be is reassuring."
After dealing with back and shoulder problems throughout last season — he had only six quality starts in 25 outings — Gibson worked on refining his delivery. He felt prepared for a strong season as Opening Day approached.
But Gibson has pitched into the sixth inning only once. He's given up 26 hits — including five home runs — and walked seven in 17 innings.
Some problems from last season have returned. The first time through the order, opponents are batting .206 with a .574 on base-plus-slugging percentage. The second time, those numbers zoom to .467 and 1.343. Blessed with a superb sinker, Gibson is inducing ground balls less than 50 percent of the time after being over 50 percent from 2013-15. His fly ball rate of 30.2 percent would be a career high.
What pitching coach Neil Allen has seen is that Gibson is back to nibbling at the corners again rather than going after hitters.
"I didn't see that in spring training, that's the sad thing," Allen said. "He was trying this new deal, and he was starting to believe in it, his confidence was soaring with it. He was aggressive in spring training.
"But because of the bump that he's hit in the road, he has returned to it a little bit. So we are hoping to eliminate that. And get aggressive, just like in spring training when he was in the zone."
On Monday, Fox Sports North analyst Bert Blyleven talked with Gibson in the visitors' clubhouse at Globe Life Park in Texas, encouraging him to be more aggressive.
On Tuesday, Gibson admitted to throwing 50 or more pitches in the bullpen before games, a very high amount. Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana, by comparison, throw between 25-30.
So Gibson, who got a $1.8 million signing bonus in 2009 as the 22nd pick in the draft out of Missouri and is making $2.9 million in his fifth season, plans to warm up with no more than 30 pitches Friday when he faces the Royals, who have scored the fewest runs in the major leagues. He hopes the focus on quality over quantity will make him sharper, and the reduction in pitches might help him excel more than one time through the order.
"If I start executing in the game like I execute in the bullpen and how I feel in the bullpen," he said, "I'll get on a little roll and start getting better."
And that is what the Twins need to see. Gibson was once thought to be a key piece in the future of the Twins. Future has turned to present, with Gibson struggling to find something that works. And he knows time might be running out.
"It's going to be what it's going to be," Gibson said. "If you're pitching and worrying about how long your leash is, then you are probably not pitching the way you need to pitch and they are going to have me here or they are going to have me somewhere else.
"I can only control how I'm pitching on the mound. And I am doing everything I can to pitch better on the mound because I know I'm a better pitcher than what I have shown."