Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward loves sharing the story of Kyle Gibson, the veteran right-hander who flopped in his first opening day start.
Gibson was 2-6 last year in his Rangers debut, then this season had a 135.00 ERA after getting only one out in the shortest opening day start in franchise history, and shortest in the majors since 1982. He is now the American League ERA leader at 2.00, and a likely first-time All-Star.
"Everybody asks me about him," Woodward said. "This guy wanted to be better. You know, he's an older guy that maybe could have just fallen into old patterns and said, `Hey, I'm just going to do what I always do.' But he didn't. He said after last year, he wasn't satisfied, he wasn't happy."
The 33-year-old Gibson (6-0) is pitching with more confidence than he ever has less than three months after failing to get out of the first inning for the only time in his 215 starts over nine big league seasons.
His unbeaten streak of 15 games is the longest to open a season in franchise history; he got no decision in that opener in Kansas City on April 1, when he gave up five runs while facing eight batters (four singles, three walks and a strikeout) after Texas had scored five times in the top of the first. Only one other team has more than two runs against him, and the Royals got none when they faced him again Saturday in Texas.
"Sometimes confidence follows a little bit of success. I try to not let my confidence be rooted in the results," Gibson said. "It's something that I've learned over the years, is you can't let your confidence be shaken by one start or anything like that. A lot of my confidence on the mound comes from my preparation and comes in the work that I do beforehand."
While the slider is still his best pitch, and he relies heavily on a sinker, Gibson added a cutter this season. He was making adjustments to his delivery even between his last starts.
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Gibson had a season-high 10 strikeouts, with five in a row early, over seven scoreless innings Saturday. He retired the first 12 Royals, including a seven-pitch fourth inning against the top of their lineup. The only Kansas City runners on against him were after loading the bases with no outs in the fifth, on two singles and a walk, before a strikeout and an inning-ending double play.
"It was all execution . he was so good in the bottom of the zone," said Royals manager and former big-league catcher Mike Matheny, who pointed out Gibson's performance to his pitchers as an example of what he has emphasized to some of them.
"He didn't make a lot of mistakes in the middle of the plate, didn't make a lot of mistakes up," he said. "Only tried to elevate a couple times, which we've made such a big deal about it because I've been trying to preach this to a couple of our guys. And to go back and watch this game over is going to be part of the homework assignments for some of our pitchers."
A first-round draft pick by Minnesota, Gibson pitched his first seven big-league seasons there before signing a $28 million, three-year deal with Texas in free agency. He was 13-7 over 160 innings for the AL Central champion Twins in 2019, even after developing ulcerative colitis after an extended bout with E. coli that he contracted during an annual mission trip before that spring.
There were some UC flare-ups in his debut with the Rangers, when the 5.35 ERA in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season was the second-worst in his career. He had a 6.53 ERA in 10 starts as a rookie in 2013.
"He wanted to figure things out. `What do I need to do to get better?', those were his words. And in every way, and he's all in," Woodward said. "Now he's given himself the physical and mental arsenal to go out there and do it. And it's fun to watch."
Woodward sees no way that Gibson could be left off the AL All-Star team that will be named July 4.
"Outside of game one, he's been absolutely dominant," the manager said. "Name me however many other pitchers that are going to be on the All-Star team that are better than him. You just can't come up with the names."