Twins rally with 4 HRs after Gibson's short start

Cruz logs 5 RBIs as Minnesota trims Central magic number to 6

September 20th, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS -- It wasn’t the smoothest ride, but the Twins beat the Royals on Thursday night, as they were expected to. and homered while went deep twice to help Minnesota fight back from two deficits in an 8-5 victory at Target Field.

The win kept the Twins four games ahead of the second-place Indians in the American League Central race and reduced their magic number to clinch the division title to six.

That was all, more or less, business as usual.

But the win over the Royals was dampened by the roughest outing yet from franchise mainstay and impending free agent in what might have been his final regular season start as a Twin at Target Field. And more concerning for the immediate future, Gibson could be running out of time to show that he can be a reliable force in the starting rotation come October.

“We have a ways to go before we make any decisions as far as that,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Everyone here has time to do whatever they need to do to get ready for potentially that point in the year. But we have a long way to go.”

As Baldelli walked up the stairs of the first-base dugout to make the pitching change in the second inning, the normally mild-mannered Gibson strode off the back of the mound and later yelled into his glove in frustration before he walked off the field that he has called home for seven seasons.

The signs had been promising in a clean first inning during which Gibson’s fastball again sat at 94-95 mph and only one batter reached base -- on a catcher’s interference. But things spiraled in the second, when Gibson issued an uncharacteristic four walks -- including two with the bases loaded -- and he also allowed three singles in a three-run frame.

“I know that there’s glimpses here and there,” Gibson said. “Unfortunately, I haven’t had a sustained outing in a while where I’ve put together five or six innings, but it’s in there, [like] the fact that I can go through the top of the order today and execute a lot of good pitches. Unfortunately, I didn’t execute a lot of good pitches in the second inning, but it’s there.”

Throughout the season, Baldelli has often elected to keep his bullpen rested by letting his starters wear some damage. Thursday was not one of those days, as immediately got hot in the bullpen and entered the game after only five outs and 52 pitches recorded by Gibson.

“We know what he’s dealing with also off the field,” Baldelli said. “So that’s certainly part of it. We’re not going to let him go out there and struggle. We’re going to take the opportunity to let him regroup. But in addition to that, it’s also September. ... When our guys are not at their absolute best, we have the ability to at least try to do something about it.”

Indeed, it certainly wouldn’t be fair to place the blame on the 31-year-old right-hander for his inconsistent performance this season, particularly of late. Gibson, who battled a bout of E. coli during the offseason, recently revealed that he has been battling ulcerative colitis throughout the season, which disrupted his sleep patterns and his strength and mechanics on the mound.

This outing came four days after Gibson allowed a go-ahead, three-run homer to Indians catcher Roberto Pérez while pitching in relief for the second time in his career. In his previous start, Gibson had allowed six runs -- five earned -- in 4 2/3 innings in his return from a stint on the 10-day injured list.

All told, Gibson now has a 7.14 ERA since the start of August and he hasn’t allowed fewer than three runs in a start since July 28.

“I think where I’ve come from the last few weeks, I appreciate that there’s probably a certain element of, ‘Try to make sure he’s OK, and try to make sure he’s not laboring too much,’” Gibson said. “But we’re trying to win ballgames, you know? ... This isn’t the part of the year where you get mad about hooks and mad about [being] taken out because you’re trying to win games, and that’s ultimately what I’m out there trying to do.”

Even after taking a stint on the injured list and a course of more intense anti-inflammatory medication, Gibson still hasn’t been able to regain the form that made him arguably the Twins’ most consistent starting pitcher in 2018, when he recorded a 3.62 ERA in a breakout campaign.

The Twins lost their most effective starter in the second half when Michael Pineda was issued a season-ending 60-game suspension, which placed additional pressure on the starting rotation and other length options. Several of the younger callups from the Minor Leagues have answered the call, including Lewis Thorpe, who pitched four innings of relief on Thursday, as well as Devin Smeltzer, Randy Dobnak and Cody Stashak, who all figure to compete for spots on the postseason roster.

Gibson will be in line for one more start before the end of the regular season, and maybe two. He still has the chance to make sure this forgettable game might not be his final Target Field memory, and he hasn’t lost any of that faith yet.

“For me, I’m just trying to get somewhat feeling back to normal, you know?” Gibson said. “I can only control when they tell me to go out there and pitch. So next time they tell me to go out, I’m going to go out and do it, and just keep working. That’s all I’ve ever done, and all I’m going to do, just keep working hard in the bullpen and keep trying to get things going in the right direction.”