ARLINGTON -- Pitching in the Major Leagues is tough enough without having to deal with the misery of E. coli and ulcerative colitis.
That’s what right-hander Kyle Gibson had to deal with last season with the Twins after getting hit hard by the condition during an annual missions trip to the Dominican Republic.
Considering what he went though, it seems remarkable Gibson was able to throw 160 innings over his 29 starts and win 13 games while helping the Twins capture the American League Central title last season.
The Rangers trust Gibson will be able to overcome his issues and become a reliable No. 3-4 starter in their rotation after signing him to a three-year, $28 million contract. Gibson falls in behind Mike Minor and former Twins teammate Lance Lynn in the Rangers rotation with the club still looking for more starting help.
“He has a tremendous reputation around the game as a great teammate and a competitor,” Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. “He and his wife Elizabeth have a great reputation for giving back to the community. A lot of things that we like and want to be about and are consistent with our culture.”
Gibson was the Twins' 2019 nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award and also won their 2017 Community Service Award. He and his wife have also sponsored a young girl in the Dominican Republic for the past nine years.
“We have been going down there every year to visit her and the family, just love on her and spend some time with her,” Gibson said. “Those are life changing events. You go down and see the need down there, it’s eye-opening. It kept my wife and I going back every single year.”
“This past year we went down on New Year’s Day and came back with E. coli. I picked up E. coli somewhere between the Dominican and Haiti and had E. coli for 3 1/2 weeks pretty solid. That’s what triggered my stomach stuff and then I found out in February I had developed ulcerative colitis in correlation with the E. coli.”
It was not good timing for a pitcher who seemed to have his career headed in the right direction. Gibson was the No. 22 overall pick of the Twins out of the University of Missouri in the 2009 MLB Draft and had two solid seasons in 2014-15. Then he was limited to 25 starts in 2016 because of a strained right shoulder and finished 6-11 with a 5.07 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP.
Gibson spent that offseason working on mechanical and delivery adjustments. It took a couple trips to the Minor Leagues to get everything in sync, but he finished strong that season, going 7-3 with a 3.76 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in his final 13 starts.
Gibson made 32 starts in 2018 and was 10-13 with a career low 3.62 ERA. His 196 innings were a career high and he struck out nine batters per nine innings. That was up from 5.37 strikeouts per nine innings in 2014, his first full season in the Majors.
Then came E. coli and ulcerative colitis.
“In Spring Training we found the right medication,” Gibson said. “I was feeling strong when the season started. Then, I think whether it was the stress to the season or my diet changes, eating on the road and stuff, about mid-May, it started getting worse and the symptoms started creeping back in.
“The hardest part was just before the All-Star break. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was getting up with a bloated stomach and gas and having to go to the bathroom five or six times a night. Right at the beginning of September, I told our trainers I can’t do this anymore.”
Gibson spent 10 days on the injured list. He was on the Twins postseason roster against the Yankees, but was not given a starting assignment. He reached out to others for help. He spoke with Jake Diekman, the former Rangers reliever who spent much of his adult life dealing with ulcerative colitis until finally having multiple surgeries in 2017.
Gibson underwent examination at the Cleveland Clinic after the season, underwent a colonoscopy and was given new medication. So far everything has worked well.
“I have been trending that way so that’s good,” Gibson said. “When you have progress going in the right direction, it feels like a brand new day. I am feeling better and better each week.”
The Rangers have told Gibson they won’t push him to be ready for Opening Day. They have much experience in this area and Gibson met with their medical staff before signing. Gibson was especially impressed with team dietician Stephanie Fernandes.
“First and foremost, if I’m not feeling good and able to compete, I’m not going to be the guy that I think I can be,” Gibson said. “That was a big factor in getting to a place I felt could help me stay healthy and keep me on the right track.”
The Rangers have made a significant investment. Gibson will receive $11 million in 2020, $10 million in 2021 and $7 million in 2022. There is another $3 million available in incentives.
But he is a durable right-hander with a 93 mile per hour fastball and a plus slider. He can also work in a curveball and changeup for a four-pitch mix. His ground ball ratio of 52.6 percent is the seventh-highest over the past six years and his 136 double plays induced were the most in the Majors in that stretch.
“He has always been a pretty good starter,” Daniels said. “A lot of things you like from a starting pitcher. He has a lot of ways to get hitters out. We are excited to have him in the mix.”