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Updated: June 29th, 2013 9:43pm
Notebook: Given the hype, rookie Kyle Gibson impresses in Twins debut

Notebook: Given the hype, rookie Kyle Gibson impresses in Twins debut

by Brandon Warne
1500ESPN.com
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Anticipation and hype surrounded Kyle Gibson when he made his major league debut Saturday afternoon against the Kansas City Royals.

Ultimately, Gibson did not disappoint.

The Minnesota Twins backed their rookie starter with an early lead Saturday in his major league debut with five runs in the first inning and a single tally in the second.

But Gibson pitched as though the decision depended on it, moving 94 mph four-seam fastballs and 91 mph two-seamers in and out of the zone, and mixing in a pretty good slider and changeup at times when the situation dictated.

All-told, Gibson threw 64 of 91 pitches for strikes (70.3%), well above the league average of 63.5%. He managed to get eight groundballs against five fly balls, and fanned five in his six innings of work. That combination of grounders and strikeouts, mixed with his usually good control -- no walks Saturday -- is a best-case scenario for Gibson fulfilling his potential as a No. 2-type pitcher.

Gibson said he tried to talk pitching coach Rick Anderson into letting him come out for the seventh inning, with a one baserunner hook on him.

"He told me he'd seen enough of my weak stuff," Gibson joked post-game in the clubhouse after wiping away a celebratory shaving cream pie.

With the win, Gibson became the first pitcher in club history drafted in the first round to win his first big-league start.

Carroll's future up in the air

Jamey Carroll started at third base Saturday, but it will be worth watching how much he plays down the stretch.

Not only will the Twins want to get extended looks at Brian Dozier, Pedro Florimon, and even Eduardo Escobar, but Carroll has a $2 million option for 2014 which would automatically vest at 401 plate appearances.

Carroll is making $3.75 million this season in the second year of a two-year, $6.5 million deal he signed on Nov. 16, 2011.

Carroll is presently on pace for somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 plate appearances, and barring injury to any of his infield comrades, is likely to see less playing time in the second half than he has the first. It's not a given that the Twins won't want him back next season, although perhaps on a cheaper or even minor league deal.

But he entered Saturday hitting only .208/.270/.238, and will turn 40 right around the time spring training opens up next year. The Twins may well rather pocket that $2 million and go with Escobar as the primary utility infielder, especially with Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario quickly emerging as infield options for the years to come.

Injury report

Neither Josh Willingham (knee) nor Ryan Doumit (ankle) started Saturday, but both were available off the bench.

Manager Ron Gardenhire wanted each hitter to take a day off as both came up feeling less than 100% after Friday night's game.

Willingham's knee woes date back to April 27, when he stole his first base of the year but slid awkwardly. Since that slide, Willingham has hit .210/.339/.344, and seen his OPS drop nearly 200 points from .940 to .745.

Willingham had a cortisone shot on the last homestand to address some of the lingering soreness, but it's unclear how much it has helped in the interim. With Oswaldo Arcia and Chris Parmelee playing well lately, the Twins have been able to work Willingham in and out of the lineup and keep the corners covered, as well as use the DH spot for the right-handed slugger.

Doumit's injury stems from missing the plate on a scoring play in the Indians series on June 23. Doumit shuffled around to miss Indians catcher Yan Gomes, who was blocking the plate, but landed awkwardly before scurrying back to the plate to score an insurance run.

After that play, Doumit was relegated to pinch hit duty in Miami before catching P.J. Walters Friday night. Doumit felt good enough to start on Friday after catching a Kyle Gibson bullpen Thursday, but ultimately had a setback that left him feeling less than 100% for Saturday's game.

Gardenhire indicated that if Doumit hadn't felt better Friday the Twins would have considered making a roster move, so this will be a situation to monitor as the Royals series draws to a close and the Twins open a set with the Yankees.

• Non-roster starter Nick Blackburn pitched in a Gulf Coast League (Rookie Level) game Friday, lasting four innings before giving way to reliever Damian Defrank. Blackburn was caught by 2013 sixth-round pick Brian Navaretto, who signed quickly and was among the first wave of position players drafted this year to get into live action.
Blackburn fanned four and only allowed two hits in four clean frames. General manager Terry Ryan noted that Blackburn's name will be one to watch later in the season, as he could certainly throw his hat into the ring as a rotation option. One scenario where that might make sense is if it coincides with Gibson's expected shutdown, which the team won't put an exact timetable or innings figure on.

Mike Pelfrey (back) will start for Cedar Rapids (Low-A) on Monday, and if all goes well, he's expected to be activated to make a start on July 6 in Toronto. Pelfrey was placed on the disabled list on June 23, retroactive to June 19, with a back strain.

• Former Twin Scott Baker was slated to throw a second simulated game Saturday as he continues to work back from a right elbow strain that has had him shut down since late March. According to MLB.com, Baker's current situation would likely lead to his Cubs debut sometime in late August, which would mark over two full years since he last started a big league game (Aug. 8, 2011).

Baker is only signed for this season at $5.5 million, a $1 million pay cut from what he made last year with the Twins when he didn't pitch at all due to Tommy John surgery. Ryan indicated earlier this season that talks with Baker stalled when the Twins insisted on getting more than a one-year deal with Baker.

Brandon Warne covers the Minnesota Twins for 1500ESPN.com. He has also contributed as a baseball analyst for Fangraphs.com and BaseballProspectus.com
Email Brandon | @Brandon_Warne
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