FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — With the recent additions of Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi to Minnesota’s rotation, Kyle Gibson has found himself bumped to the back of the group.
That’s no slight to the slender 30-year-old right-hander. Even when Ervin Santana returns from finger surgery in late April or early May and Gibson likely becomes the fifth starter, he’s still happy to be a contributor to a contending club and proud of the depth the Twins have suddenly built up after several lean seasons of starting pitching.
“Having that kind of consistency day in and day out can make it really difficult on other teams,” Gibson said. “I’ve always thought that it is harder to keep the other team from scoring runs than it is scoring runs yourself. With the staff we have here now, hopefully we can keep a lot of runs off the board and let our offense do the rest.”
Gibson had a 5.07 ERA in both 2016 and 2017, when he was sent to Triple-A for two separate stints. He went 6-2 with a 3.55 ERA over his last 11 starts for the Twins last year, though, and he’s been sharp again this spring. In three big league exhibition outings, Gibson has a 1.80 ERA with seven strikeouts and no walks in 10 innings. In his longest outing, he allowed one run and four hits over five innings with no walks and five strikeouts in an 8-1 win Thursday over Tampa Bay.
“They’re making moves to make this team better right now while still keeping the future in mind,” Gibson said. “Nobody foresaw the Ervin injury coming. The front office did a really good job of finding some guys that can pick up some of that slack until he’s healthy. When he does come back, whenever that it is, it’s like having another free agent come in.”
Though manager Paul Molitor’s plan is to use a four-man rotation as much as he can in April while Santana is out and off days make it manageable to keep the top starters on regular rest, the Twins will still be relying on a productive, steady season from their No. 5 starter.
Last year, they used 16 different starters, meaning 12 took turns in the last spot.
“As much as the game’s changed around bullpen usage, I still like my starter’s innings however I can get them,” Molitor said.
Twins relievers combined for a 4.40 ERA last year, fourth worst in the AL, so the expected quintet of Jose Berrios, Santana, Lynn, Odorizzi and Gibson ought to be able to relieve some pressure on the bullpen, which received its own winter upgrades in veterans Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed and Zach Duke. Phil Hughes and Tyler Duffey are also in the mix, likely to pitch in long relief but experienced options in case of injury or struggle.
The rotation upgrades have also taken some burden off Gibson himself. He acknowledged recently he might’ve been trying to do too much on the mound to help carry a thin rotation.
“I spent more than enough time putting pressure on myself, so now I’m trying to enjoy things a little bit more and have fun out there,” Gibson said. “The pressure is pretty much what you make it. I’ve learned that all of us have the same pressure whether you’re starting opening day or you’re the No. 5 guy when it’s your turn to start. So I’m trying to keep that mindset.”
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