When Kyle Gibson was selected by the Twins in the opening round of the 2009 First Year Player Draft, he was quickly tagged as a "prospect." By September 2011, however, he received a different tag: candidate for Tommy John surgery.
"I've tried as much as possible to put that 'Tommy John' label aside," Gibson said. "Now I think of myself as a 'pitcher' and I'm throwing, and I don't have to worry about anything else."
Now it's International League hitters who need to worry as Gibson has put the surgery behind him and reasserted himself as one of the Twins' top prospects.
Gibson has a deceiving 2-4 record, with his 3.32 ERA in seven starts a better indication of how well he's pitched. He's allowed 36 hits and 11 walks while striking out 35 over 40 2/3 innings.
In his most recent start on May 8, Gibson dominated Toledo, giving up only four hits and two walks in a complete-game shutout that included a season-high eight strikeouts.
"He had that comeback fastball that moves the left-handed hitter off the plate, then came back over the inside corner," Mud Hens manager Phil Nevin said. "It looked like his breaking ball gave our right-handed hitters a little bit of trouble.
"When he commands the [strike] zone with his stuff, he's going to give offenses problems."
It was far different from last year, when Gibson compiled a 9.45 ERA in two late-season starts for the Red Wings.
"Last year, it was just great to be back in Triple-A," he said. "I gained confidence by returning to the level I was at when I got hurt. Making a couple of starts -- even if they weren't that good -- gave me the confidence to know I was healthy enough to do it."
One change Gibson has seen following the surgery is an improved ability to throw his slider at different speeds.
"Before the surgery, my changeup was 82-83 mph, my slider was 84-87 and my fastball was above that," he said. "After the game [against Toledo], my dad said I threw a couple [sliders] at 78-79.
"Now, when the situation arises, I can take a couple of miles off my slider and I think that will make my harder ones more effective."
Rochester manager Gene Glynn said the Gibson who shut out the Mud Hens is the pitcher most people in the Twins organization expect he will be.
"That's not to say we expect a three-hit shutout, but he has the kind of pitches that make him effective," Glynn said. "With his size, if he keeps the pitches down in the zone with his sinker and slider, he can be effective. ... Step by step, he's showing more of his pitches in different zones."
It all came together against the Mud Hens in a start Gibson said will help jump-start his push for a spot in the Major Leagues.
"This was the first time I've gone more than seven innings since the surgery and the first time I've thrown more than 100 pitches," he noted. "After Spring Training was over and I was 'healthy,' I felt I was back.
"Now I'm trying to reach the point where I don't use that 'Tommy John surgery' label as an excuse for a bad day."
Better than his record: Norfolk RHP Jair Jurrjens has won his last four starts to improve to 4-1. But he's been even better than that record, posting a 2.62 ERA that ranks ninth in the IL with a .224 opponents' batting average. He has posted quality starts in all but one outing and has allowed 37 hits and 15 walks over 44 2/3 innings while fanning 29.
Tribe time: Indianapolis has jumped out to a league-best 25-11 record, thanks in part to a pitching staff that leads the IL with a 2.61 ERA. The rotation is led by RHP Gerrit Cole, who's 2-1 with a 2.23 ERA, and LHP Andy Oliver, who's 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA and a league-leading 50 strikeouts. But the Indians also have one of the IL's strongest bullpens, anchored by closer Vic Black (10 saves and 2.57 ERA)) and including fellow RHPs Duke Welker (no earned runs allowed in 16 innings) and Ryan Reid (4-1, 0.45 ERA in 12 relief appearances) and LHP Mike Zagurski (2.81 ERA with 27 strikeouts in 16 innings).
He said it: "I've taken out guys before without them giving up any hits. [Trevor Bauer] had a great outing. We have certain things we look for in the best benefit for all of our pitchers. We had our closer available, and that's the decision I went with." -- Clippers manager Chris Tremie to the Columbus Dispatch on May 7. Tremie took Bauer out of the contest one out away from a no-hitter against Charlotte. Closer Preston Guilmet allowed a two-run single and a two-run homer as the Knights won the first game of a doubleheader, 4-2. While Bauer did not allow any hits, he walked four batters and hit four more.
He said it, Part II: "[Relieving] is a quicker road to the top. I, of course, want to get there as fast as I can -- and then worry about maybe trying to get into a starting role once I've established myself up there. As of right now, it's a short-term goal for me to be successful and to be able to get to the big leagues faster. In the long term, I'd like to get back to starting in the big leagues." -- Red Sox LHP Chris Hernandez to the Providence Journal. Hernandez began the season as a starter for Pawtucket and was 0-2 with a 4.56 ERA in five games before moving to the bullpen, where he is 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA in three appearances.