Disappointment was a given. The news initially shook Kyle Gibson when the Minnesota Twins decided to demote their former 2009 first-round Major League Baseball draft pick to Triple-A Rochester late last month.
He thought about lobbying the club for a spot in the bullpen at first, Gibson’s father Harold remarked on July 28 when his son made a rehab appearance against the Indianapolis Indians at Victory Field in front of more than 70 family and friends.
His second demotion in three months, Kyle Gibson needed to take a step back, both figuratively and literally, to regain perspective.
Story continues below gallery
“I know there are still things I need to work on. I was obviously disappointed that I was sent down, but I’m going to keep trying to get better,” Gibson remarked during his recent 11-day stint with Rochester. “You can have a couple of different mentalities when you get sent down.
“Obviously, there is a business side to this game that nobody really likes, but you’re either going to use it, feel sorry for yourself or use it to go on down there and get to work.”
Gibson used his setback to regain focus and bide his time, which came this past Saturday when the Twins recalled the right-hander and put him back into the rotation.
The move came after the Twins traded left-hander Jaime Garcia to the New York Yankees for Double-A right-hander Zack Littell and Triple-A lefty Dietrich Enns on July 30. Garcia was acquire by the Twins on July 24, which left Gibson out of a crowded rotation.
“I was disappointed. (Paul Molitor, Twins manager) and Neal Allen (Twins pitching coach) knew that, and I’m sure Derek (Falvey, Twins chief baseball officer) and Thad (Levine, Twins general manager) expected that, but sometimes the numbers just don’t work in your favor,” Gibson remarked on his situation in late July. “Sometimes there are moves teams need to make for starting pitching depth.”
With Garcia out of the mix, an opening materialized for Gibson this month, and his minor-league numbers showed promise.
In three starts for Triple-A Rochester this summer, Gibson carried a 2.08 ERA with a 1.04 WHIP and a 23-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 17.1 innings. His production as a stark improvement over his 6.08 ERA in 18 starts for the Twins this season. In his recent start for Rochester on July 28, Gibson struck out five and didn’t allow a walk through 5.0 one-hit innings against Indianapolis.
“I think I made some changes that they’re excited about. I know I felt confidence in how my stuff felt the last five or six starts (before the demotion),” Gibson said after his game in Indy. “I obviously had a rough eight or so starts up there, and that kind of set the tone and made it harder to get the numbers back where they are.”
His best month this season unfolded in June when Gibson sported a 4.24 ERA and went 3-2 with 21 strikeouts and 13 walks in 34.0 innings. In April, his ERA was 8.06, followed by a 7.53 ERA in May, split by a pair of starts for Rochester when he sent down the first time.
“One of the reasons he struggled in the beginning of the year was he got to the point where it wasn’t about fun. When this becomes not about fun, it’s time to quit,” Harold Gibson said. “But he quickly came around.”
It took some soul searching, however, the elder Gibson noted, as his son bounced back after going 2-4 before rejoining the Twins for a start on May 22, which he won against Baltimore.
On Saturday, Gibson tossed a quality start, going 5.1 innings and allowing three earned runs with four strikeouts and two walks. He lowered his ERA to 6.03 on the year and surrendered seven hits.
He was shaky early, giving up a two-run homer to Nomar Mazara in the first and a sacrifice fly in the second, but settled in the rest of the way. His pitch count ran high, though.
“A little frustrating the first couple of innings,” Gibson told MLB.com reporters after the Twins lost 4-1 to the Texas Rangers in Minnesota. “I just didn’t execute. What we did in the third, fourth and fifth is more what we wanted to do, going in on guys. I didn’t expect Mazara to be so aggressive on the first pitch. But after that, we settled in.”
Despite being sent down to Triple-A, the Twins wanted Gibson to remain a starter, a spot he’s occupied for the club since making his big league debut in 2013.
In 2014, he posted a 13-12 record with a 4.47 ERA as opposing hitters were batting .258 against him. In 2015, he broke out with an 11-11 record and a 3.84 ERA with a career-high 145 strikeouts and a .252 average against.
An injury in 2016 slowed him down and his ERA suffered at 5.07 while he went 6-11 through 25 starts and 147.1 innings.
His up-and-down 2017 prompted both demotions, in addition to the business side of the game, but the Greenfield-Central graduate is staying positive through his fifth season in the majors.
“The Twins have been really good to Kyle, and he didn’t pitch well this year. If you don’t throw well, you need to come down,” Harold Gibson said. “People in these organizations take care of people. I think when you’re in the system and you’ve earned that respect, they want you to do well.”
Gibson knows the key is avoiding home runs and walks. This season, he’s given up 17 home runs — three off of last year’s career high of 20 — and has issued 55 walks. He walked a career worst 65 in 2016.
This year, Gibson is 6-9 with a 6.03 ERA in 19 starts.
“For me, I wasn’t focused on the number or where my ERA was, all I was trying to do was get better each start,” Gibson said. “Being a good baseball player and having success on the field is part of what I want to do.
“(Molitor) definitely didn’t want to send me down, but he just told me to keep working and keep doing what I’m doing.”
Now that he’s back with the Twins, he has the chance to prove himself again.
“I told him, there’s two ways he can do this. He can either pout, and he didn’t. He could carry a grudge, and he didn’t. The other thing he can do is realize how blessed he is to do something anyone would trade with him in a second,” Harold Gibson remarked in late July. “I’d trade him.”