Kyle Gibsonâ€™s command â€˜not where I want to be,â€™ but getting closer
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery often say command is the last thing that comes around.
In his start against the Boston Red Sox on Saturday, Minnesota Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson struggled with command, issuing a walk and allowing three hits -- one a solo homer -- while throwing 48 pitches and recording just five outs.
Gibson is 18 months removed from his operation, and he has pitched dozens of innings in the minor leagues and in the Arizona Fall League since returning to action last summer. So Saturday's command troubles could have just been an off day, like anybody else is prone to have early in spring. Or his command could still be shaky due to Tommy John rust.
"It's not where I want to be," Gibson said about his command. "I'm getting closer. I think my first outing I was a little bit better. This outing I feel like I was just trying to do a little bit too much here and there. I was down in the zone, but sometimes that isn't good enough. Sometimes you've got to bring the ball up just a little bit, get them swinging, so they'll swing at those low ones."
Gibson was charged with one run on three hits and a walk while striking out three in 1 2/3 innings. He threw 48 pitches, 31 for strikes (three swings and misses), and three of the batted balls he allowed were grounders.
The home run was a wind-aided, opposite-field shot by Juan Carlos Linares, but the ball was well-struck and likely would have gone for extra bases either way.
"I think he hit the ball pretty good," Gibson said. "It was a four-seamer away. He squared that up pretty good."
Gibson cruised through the first inning, striking out Shane Victorino swinging to start the fame and freezing Lyle Overbay to end it. Ryan Sweeney's first-inning single was a seeing-eye, bouncing ball base hit.
But in the second inning, Gibson was unable to finish off hitters. He started 0-2 to Linares, who fouled off three pitches and worked the count to 2-2 before going yard.
Two batters later, Daniel Butler fouled off six pitches before lining a base hit to left field.
Gibson walked the last batter he faced, Jonathan Diaz, on six pitches.
"My fastball command wasn't as good, and they were fouling off pitches, they were doing what they needed to do, and I just couldn't put guys away when I needed to," Gibson said. "I don't think I really threw too many terrible pitches, other than the one to Linares that I left up a little bit. For whatever reason, they were just barely getting a piece of it and hanging in there and doing what they needed to do."
Even with temperatures in the 50's, Gibson's velocity appeared fine -- fastballs mostly between 90 and 92 miles per hour, sometimes touching 93 and 94.
Gibson said his slider has been the toughest pitch to command in spring training, "Which is pretty surprising," he said, "and at times frustrating, just because normally it's the pitch that's most consistent for me.
"In Arizona it was the pitch that was really kind of allowing me to get in and out of each inning. But I really haven't been able to command that pitch very well, so I know that's one thing that I'm going to be working on in the bullpen. But fastball command is always important."
Gibson's fastball is his most important pitch for a number of reasons -- namely because he uses fastballs as both set-up pitches and out-pitches, depending on the circumstance.
"When you look at the last (hitter, Diaz), he took a sinker that was a pretty decent pitch," Gibson said. "It started probably at the knees or a little bit below, but when I get in the habit of throwing that many sinkers in a row, they get used to the break, they get used to the sink at the end, and they're going to lay off that pitch that starts low.
"So one thing that I need to be able to do a little bit better is throw the four-seamer at the bottom of the zone and let that one stay true, and then go back to the sinker as well so they have to swing at it."
With Scott Diamond still yet to appear in a spring training game, Gibson is in a very good position to crack the 25-man roster out of camp, and he has the entire month of March to fine tune his command.