Kyle Gibson blew past all sorts of benchmarks on Wednesday, and in the process, proved his recovery is complete.
The Twins' No. 4 prospect allowed four hits while striking out eight in his first complete game in three years as Triple-A Rochester blanked Toledo, 3-0.
Gibson also walked two and faced four over the minimum for the Red Wings. The Indiana native recorded 11 of his outs via ground balls, including two double plays. He retired nine in a row before Avisail Garcia singled with one out in the seventh inning.
"I think the big thing for me is the slider," Gibson said. "Chris Herman behind the plate did a great job, I was working on throwing some fastballs up and he did a good job adjusting to that. A lot of the credit goes to him. We both did our homework on these guys, and he helped me execute it."
The 25-year-old right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery 18 months ago on Sept. 7, 2011. He missed most of last season while rehabbing, eventually tossing 28 1/3 innings at three Minor League stops. Delivering his best start since the surgery was more than a relief.
"I'm almost a year to the day to the first time I threw a bullpen," Gibson said. "It's pretty crazy to think where I was a year ago today. When I found out I needed surgery, I was disappointed. I knew I needed a really good effort and to work hard. If you don't do the rehab after Tommy John you're going to end up a stat.
"I feel like I'm back to where I was before. I feel good. The last two starts I feel like, endurance-wise, I'm back to where I was before. I still felt pretty good and was able to execute pitches when I needed to."
The 6-foot-6 hurler noted that a key difference between this outing and his last start, in which he allowed five runs on 11 hits over 4 2/3 innings against Columbus on May 3, was one particular pitch.
"Last start, my sinker wasn't sinking much," Gibson said. "I just didn't have it that day, I was able to work that in and it was a good pitch for me tonight. That's kind of my bread and butter, what I like to work my game around. I just tend to get hit more when I don't have my sinker going. I like to throw it to get quick outs."
In some ways, the surgery may prove to be a boost to Gibson's career, as it's taught him the value of maintaining a strong workout habit.
"Tommy John kind of got me in the routine to do and I feel like I have a really good routine to work," he said. "I always did shoulder stuff and work in the training room because that's all we had in Missouri, but I don't know if I took it as serious as I needed to. I think that gave me a good foundation for this year even though I'm not technically rehabbing."
Gibson needed 114 pitches to toss his first complete-game shutout since April 29, 2010, when he threw a one-hitter for Class A Advanced Fort Myers. With the Red Wings having used eight relievers in a 16-inning win the night before, the Tigers product knew his team needed him to step up.
"Before the game, the pitching coach Marty Mason said, 'Hey you got 110 pitches, go out there and go as long as you can,'" Gibson said. "I like that, it took me back to my college games. You're going to go as long as you can."
MLB.com's No. 46 prospect allowed a two-out single to Nick Castellanos in the ninth, causing him to worry he was close to being lifted.
"After that hit I was thinking that [manager] Gene [Glynn] was going to be coming out there so I got back on the mound as quick as possible," Gibson said. "You know at that point knowing that either that hitter or the next one was probably my last one so I was thinking let's get these guys out as fast as we can."
This was the first time Gibson had gone past seven innings or 100 pitches since undergoing the surgery. In a sense, it was like acing a test for the right-hander.
"To be able to do that I feel incredibly blessed," Gibson said. "To have the Twins organization have confidence in me and a good training staff to help me, I'm just thankful."
Evan Bigley slugged a two-run homer in the first and Doug Bernier hit a sacrifice fly in the third to provide the Red Wings' offense.