MINNEAPOLIS — Kyle Gibson wasn’t dominant in his first major league start, but he still pitched well enough to make a bit of Minnesota Twins history and give the team a reason to be optimistic about the future of its pitching staff.
Four years after being Minnesota’s top pick in the 2009 draft, Gibson pitched six solid innings, and Trevor Plouffe homered to help the Twins beat the Kansas City Royals 6-2 on Saturday.
The long road from draft day to starting pitcher included a Tommy John-surgery detour, but it ultimately ended with Gibson becoming Minnesota’s first first-round pick to win a start in his major league debut.
He did it in front of about 30 family members and friends.
“It was an amazing day, really,” Gibson said. “I was pretty nervous the last couple of days leading up to it, and was able to calm the nerves somehow. I think seeing a couple of familiar faces before I started throwing, and a little prayer before the game definitely helped me calm my nerves, but it was a great day.”
Gibson (1-0) allowed two runs and eight hits, and he struck out five. He allowed two runs in the third inning on RBI singles by Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez, and he hit Escobar in the fifth. But he worked out of several jams and recorded his first 1-2-3 inning in the sixth thanks to some nice defense by Pedro Florimon at short.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a while, and I’m sure he has, too,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “Going through the elbow thing, and all the rehab and all the hard work that he’s put in, it’s a big moment. A big moment for him.”
Gibson had plenty of early help as Minnesota scored five in the first inning. Wade Davis (4-6) was yanked after giving up another run in the second with no one out. The one-inning outing marked Davis’ shortest outing of the season for the Royals, who have lost seven of 10.
“Never,” Davis said when asked if he’d ever had a similar outing. “Not that short, anyways. Just frustrating to look back and look how that played out.”
On Friday night, the Royals hit a season-high four homers against the Twins. They couldn’t muster much of anything against Gibson through six innings, or against relievers Brian Duensing, Casey Fien or Glen Perkins.
Kansas City loaded the bases with one out against Fien in the eighth, but Lorenzo Cain and Miguel Tejada both struck out swinging.
“We got kind of put in a hole early there,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “We were trying to inch back, and inch back. Just fell short.”
Gibson’s long-awaited arrival to the Twins’ rotation came this week after starter Mike Pelfrey was placed on the disabled list because of a strained back. He received the loudest cheers during pregame introductions, and he delighted the crowd by striking out slugger Billy Butler to end the first inning.
“I think everybody in this room knows that feeling the first day that they step out there, nerves are going, but he handled it about as good as you could,” catcher Joe Mauer said.
Minnesota had been outscored 74-39 in the first inning this season, but the Twins pounced right away on Davis, who gave up a two-run double to Justin Morneau and a two-run homer to Plouffe.
Florimon’s RBI-single made it 5-0, and Gibson calmly handled the Royals lineup the rest of the way with pitches that consistently reached into the 90-mph range.
“You hear a lot about him, and he’s got great makeup and great pitches, and he’s going to be good one,” Mauer said.