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Updated: August 8th, 2013 9:58pm
Zulgad: Self-induced pressure isn't doing Kyle Gibson any favors

Zulgad: Self-induced pressure isn't doing Kyle Gibson any favors

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Twins' refusal to bring up righthanded pitching prospect Kyle Gibson early in the season led many to accuse the organization of operating on the cheap.

"The Twins don't want to start Gibson's major league clock," was the common refrain.

Twins officials responded by explaining that, although Gibson's future was bright, the team's first-round pick in the 2009 draft wasn't displaying the type of start-to-start consistency at Triple-A Rochester that would lead to a promotion.

The organization's feeling was that adding Gibson to the rotation just for the sake of it didn't make sense. The Twins wanted Gibson to be successful enough that once he joined them he could remain in the majors for the long term.

Seven starts into his big-league career, it's now clear general manager Terry Ryan and his staff knew what they were talking about.

Gibson, who is scheduled to start for the Twins on Friday in the first game of a split doubleheader at Chicago, is 2-3 with a 6.69 ERA and coming off a three-inning performance last Saturday in the Twins' 6-4 win over the Houston Astros.

It was 25-year-old's shortest outing to date and was a disappointment for a guy who gave up only two runs on eight hits and struck out five with no walks in six innings in a 6-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals on June 29 in his major league debut.

Gibson said that he doesn't feel overwhelmed by anything in the big leagues, but acknowledged he has been applying far too much pressure on himself.

Reliever Anthony Swarzak went through the same thing when he joined the Twins in 2009 and has been trying to provide support for the rookie.

"He's been a big help over the last couple of weeks and been somebody that I've talked to quite a bit just kind of about what he's gone through," Gibson said last Sunday as the Twins prepared to leave on their current road trip. "His first question (after Saturday's game was), 'How are you doing?' (I told him that) I think I'm doing pretty well, but there have just been some frustrating times, obviously.

"That's kind of what he was telling me. 'You're beating yourself right now.' (He was) like, 'Studying video is great, studying scouting reports is great, but at the end of the day you've got to go out there and compete and not think about what you're doing. Just do it.'

"I think that was one thing that I have to be better at. I have to realize that I'm up here for a reason, and I've just got to go out there and compete and throw my best game."

Gibson threw 81 pitches and gave up four runs and nine hits with a walk and two strikeouts last weekend against the woeful Astros. He has yet to last more than six innings in any of his starts.

Gibson talked to both Swarzak and pitching coach Rick Anderson after facing Houston and realized just how much pressure he was putting on himself.

"I can remember in my mind how tight I was griping the ball at times," Gibson said. "It's just causing misfires and causing me to be too uptight out there and trying to do too much. ... I think one thing that's really going to help, hopefully, is just the way I grip the ball."

The issue is that in the calm of the clubhouse it's easy to talk about not getting caught up in the moment and feeling the pressure. But when a young pitcher, such as Gibson, is on the mound and things start to unravel it can be a very different story.

"That's what I told (Swarzak)," Gibson said. "I was like, 'All of this is great and I agree with all of it, but it's harder to do than it is to say.' He said, 'Well, that's fine, but you've tried it for six starts and how's it going for you?' I was like, 'Well, not as good as I want it to.'

"He said, 'If you keep doing it and don't change and it keeps going the same way then who looks stupid?' I was like, 'I do.' He said, 'Exactly.' He told me it's time to make the adjustment, go out there and try something different."

Gibson, who underwent "Tommy John" surgery on his right elbow in September 2011 and made only 13 minor league appearances last season as a result, was aware of the fact that many wanted to see him in a Twins uniform as soon as possible this year.

He refuses to use those outside expectations as an excuse for why he hasn't been more successful or consistent.

"Obviously, with the social media and everything it's incredibly difficult to not see that," he said. "But I'm also not going to sit here and say that's the reason why I've struggled. I've always been a believer that stress and certain things like that you can bring upon yourself very easily. Just because you have expectations for me, doesn't mean that's going to cause me stress unless I allow it to.

"I don't know that it's (others) expectations, but it's probably my own expectations that have kind of caused tension in me because I want to have success so bad. That doesn't have much to do with reporters or fans expectations but my own expectations and my own desire to be good. So, I think that's definitely been part of it. Putting too much pressure on myself day in and day out."

Gibson will attempt to lessen that pressure starting on Friday afternoon. His plan will be to have fun, not grip the ball so tight and just relax.

If he isn't successful in doing so, and soon, Gibson might find himself where the Twins hoped he would never have to return: Rochester. 

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Anthony Swarzak
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