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Kyle Gibson pulled early; was that his final Target Field start as a Twin?

By the midway point of the second inning Thursday, it was clear Kyle Gibson’s day as the team’s starting pitcher was finished. It was less clear – but entirely possible – that Gibson had just been pulled from his final start at Target Field in a Twins uniform.

Gibon’s next scheduled start, should he make it, would likely be on the road in Detroit. And then a likely trip to the ALDS, in which nothing is promised and the Twins will need their best foot forward on the pitching side. After this postseason, with no long-term agreement in place in Minnesota, Gibson is a free agent.

His teammate Jake Odorizzi talked about the possibility of finality this week, and Gibson is in the same situation. Odorizzi, though, has pitched well enough in his latest stretch that he ought to be a slam-dunk to be on the postseason roster, whereas Gibson has struggled as he’s dealt with his own significant set of circumstances.

Gibson during the 2nd inning walked three Royals hitters in a row, the first one to load the bases, and the second two to plate a pair and put Kansas City up 3-0 in the 2nd inning. After the third free pass, when Gibson just couldn’t seem to command the strike zone, Mitch Garver made a slow walk out to the mound, unaccompanied. It was pretty clear something was afoot, and as it turned out it was a brief stalling tactic so Zack Littell could get a few warm-up throws in the bullpen before manager Rocco Baldelli climbed the dugout steps to go get his starter.

“It was a tough start,” Baldelli said. “I think he’s at a point where he’s probably struggling a little bit with intent. I don’t know if it’s necessarily command or just getting the ball on the plate. I think he can throw strikes. He’s a guy who generally has a good feel for what he’s doing. The question really at that point is are we aiming in the zone? Are we trying to attack in the zone or not? But obviously we’re going to need to attack more and put the ball in the strike zone and see what happens. Whether we get the swings and misses or not, whether we get contact, we don’t know. But we’ve got to give ourselves a chance.”

When he saw his manager leave the dugout Gibson must have known his night was finished, as he walked a few steps behind the back of the mound to try to collect his emotions. He climbed back on the hill, shouted something into his glove, and handed the ball off to Baldelli, walking to the home dugout for what might be the final time in a Twins uniform.

If Gibson makes his next start, it’s likely to be on the road in Detroit. Baldelli cautioned to not try to look too far into the future when predicting the Twins’ pitching plans. The way Gibson has pitched since returning from the Injured List (ulcerative colitis) casts doubts from outside the organization on whether he’ll make the postseason roster, if and when the Twins punch their ticket.

“I felt good. My arm and body for the most part feels good. My legs felt good. I think there’s an element of a mental battle that is part of it, but physically I still feel a lot better than what I did a few weeks ago,” he said. Gibson estimated in passing that he felt 85% or 90%, although it’s tough to ignore the circumstances that underscore this as a trying season for the veteran right-hander. Gibson had a couple hours to cool down before talking with the media, and after the game, he was asked if he felt a sense of urgency to get his season back on the rails to impress enough to keep getting opportunities – especially with October right around the corner.

“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.”

Who knows what the postseason will hold. Who knows what awaits this offseason. With free agency upon him this winter and no long-term commitment in place, it’s very possible that Gibson will wind up elsewhere next season, after spending his entire 10-year professional career to date with one franchise. Or he could end up back with the Twins.

He debuted in 2013 as a sinker-slider guy, has been prominently featured in starting rotations since then, and has made 188 starts in those 6 season. He evolved as a pitcher midway through 2017, found the best stretch of success of his pro career, and then fell back on disappointing results this season when E. coli and ulcerative colitis presented him with challenges even before spring training began.

We can’t predict the future, so we ask questions. As he walked off the mound toward the dugout Thursday night, only one came to mind: Did Kyle Gibson just make his last start at Target Field in a Twins uniform?


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