Twins’ Gibson expands pitching arsenal

Published 8:23 am Thursday, March 26, 2015

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Kyle Gibson struck seven in six strong innings for the Minnesota Twins in a 2-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday.

Gibson mixed in his slider and placed new emphasis on his changeup in striking out Rays slugger Evan Longoria three times and leadoff man John Jaso twice.

“I think it’s a pitch just to throw into the arsenal,” Gibson said of his changeup. “I think it’s just going to make my fastball better, which is the one thing I was looking for.”

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The right-hander had just 107 strikeouts in 179 1-3 innings last season, his first full year in the majors. He has 17 Ks in 19 2-3 innings this spring.

Rene Rivera, the second batter of the game, homered, but the only other hit off Gibson was a two-out single by Desmond Jennings in the fourth. Gibson retired seven of his final eight batters, issuing a full-count walk to No. 9 hitter Tim Beckham in that span.

“We need a higher foul pole,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said.

Twins switch-hitter Kennys Vargas hit a long home run in the sixth inning, batting from the right side, that nearly cleared the boardwalk beyond the left field berm. It was Vargas’ team-high fourth homer of the spring.

Gibson has struck out seven or more just three times in 41 big league starts. Two of those games came in his final 12 starts of 2014, including a career-high eight strikeouts on Sept. 23 against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Twins catcher Josmil Pinto was cleared of a head injury to resume baseball activities Wednesday. He ran, threw and took some swings in the batting cage, but he has not done any catching work since being hit by three follow-throughs of swings by Adam Jones on Saturday against Baltimore. The Twins are hopeful Pinto, still competing for a backup spot, could return.