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Gibson throws 2 scoreless in stellar debut

Garver slugs homer in win; Sano, Mauer aiming for Wednesday
MLB.com @RhettBollinger

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When Kyle Gibson was optioned to Triple-A Rochester in early May after posting an 8.20 ERA over his first six starts, it was fair to wonder about his future with the Twins.

Gibson had a 5.07 ERA in 25 starts in 2016, dealing with back issues, and his start to the '17 season didn't exactly inspire much confidence. But Gibson took the demotion in stride, making two solid starts with the Red Wings to get promoted again, but had a 5.27 ERA over his next 12 starts, causing him to get sent back down to the Minors again in late July.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When Kyle Gibson was optioned to Triple-A Rochester in early May after posting an 8.20 ERA over his first six starts, it was fair to wonder about his future with the Twins.

Gibson had a 5.07 ERA in 25 starts in 2016, dealing with back issues, and his start to the '17 season didn't exactly inspire much confidence. But Gibson took the demotion in stride, making two solid starts with the Red Wings to get promoted again, but had a 5.27 ERA over his next 12 starts, causing him to get sent back down to the Minors again in late July.

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But Gibson figured it out down the stretch, posting a 3.55 ERA over his final 11 starts while striking out 59 batters in 63 1/3 innings. Gibson, 30, was arguably the club's best pitcher late in the year, and it helped him remain with the club this offseason, as he was tendered a contract. Although he eventually lost his arbitration case, earning $4.2 million instead of $4.55 million, he's considered a lock for the rotation.

Gibson made his spring debut against the Rays on Sunday, throwing two perfect innings in Minnesota's 5-4 win at Hammond Stadium. He threw just 15 pitches with 10 going for strikes, including first-pitch strikes to four of the six batters he faced.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

"I've spent the last two years putting too much pressure on myself trying to live up to whoever's expectations," Gibson said. "I understand my expectations are higher than anybody else. For me, it's about having fun and having a game plan and trying to soak up everything from everyone around me. I'm just trying to be the pitcher I know I can."

One notable change down the stretch for Gibson was an increased reliance on his slider instead of his curveball. Through the end of July, Gibson threw his slider 15.3 percent of the time and his curveball 12.1 percent of the time, but after Aug. 1, he used his slider 20.3 percent of the time and his curveball 7.7 percent of the time, per Statcast™. He also increased his amount of pitches in the strike zone from 44.3 percent to 47.1 percent.

"With the way my fastball was in the second half of the year, it just made my slider all that much better," Gibson said. "I was talking the other day about limiting curveballs, but it wasn't on purpose. It was more what the situation called for. Against lefties, I used it more down and in, and with righties, it was middle-down, and it stemmed from my fastball being better and in the zone."

With their lack of starting-pitching depth, the Twins need Gibson to look like the second-half version of himself, but he's confident he's heading in the right direction after his mechanical tweaks before last season and the help the front office gives him with their advanced breakdowns, led by Twins director of video scouting Jeremy Hefner.

"I definitely want to get off to a better start," Gibson said. "When the team is enjoying success, you want to feel like you're contributing and part of it."

Twins Tidbits
• Right-handed reliever Addison Reed, who joined the Twins on a two-year, $16.75 million deal this offseason, made his spring debut, throwing a scoreless third inning. He allowed a single and was charged with a balk but was happy with the results.

"My main thing today was fastball location," Reed said. "Felt good. It was hot out there. Got to get used to that. Overall, felt everything went well."

Video: TB@MIN: Garver launches a two-run homer to left

Mitch Garver, who is the frontrunner to be the club's backup catcher, helped his cause with a two-run homer in the fourth. Eduardo Escobar also ripped an RBI double and scored on an infield single from Jason Castro. Outfield prospect LaMonte Wade drove in the go-ahead run with an RBI double in the seventh.

"Mitch is looking for situations to turn on more balls," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "He's got power we didn't see much of last year. He's trying to find the right times to take his shots."

• Twins third baseman Miguel Sano is progressing enough from his shin injury that he could start at third base as soon as Wednesday. The Twins are also targeting Wednesday for first baseman Joe Mauer's spring debut.

Up Next
Right-hander Phil Hughes, who is competing for a spot in the rotation, makes his first start of the spring at 12:05 p.m. CT on Monday against the Cardinals at Hammond Stadium. Hughes will be followed by right-handers Tyler Duffey, Felix Jorge, Alan Busenitz and Rule 5 right-hander Tyler Kinney. Brian Dozier and Erick Aybar will also make their spring debuts. 

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

Minnesota Twins, Kyle Gibson