It’s been hard to tell exactly how sick Minnesota Twins starter Kyle Gibson has been all year.
He got E. coli on an offseason missionary trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, battled it in Spring Training, but made his first start on April 3 at Kansas City. He was placed on the injured list on Sept. 1 with ulcerative colitis, which Rocco Baldelli creatively called a “bad boiler,” but he made a start on Sept. 12 vs. Washington and was used in relief on Sept. 15 at Cleveland.
“Physically I felt a lot better. It’s a little frustrating obviously with the results with how I felt physically,” Gibson said after his Sept. 12 start vs. the Nationals, where he gave up five earned runs and couldn’t get out of the fifth inning. “But, legs were back under me and I felt really good. Stuff felt really good and unfortunately, I didn’t execute with two outs in the inning.”
The question is how ill he has been most of the year.
“He’s been good to go out there and perform,” said Rocco Baldelli when asked if Gibson has battled illness all year. “Has he been at his absolute, 100 percent level of strength and endurance and things like that? Maybe not.
“Maybe he’s been at 90 percent of what he’s capable of, for the most part. It’s pretty admirable that a guy goes out there for an entire season and pretty much makes all of his starts and is pretty durable, and does a pretty nice job, and he’s dealing with something like that on the side.”
It might explain why he has taken a step back after a strong 2018 season.
At age 31 he’s in the middle of his prime, and he was coming off of a year where he had a career-low 3.62 ERA and pitched a career-high 196.2 innings. But his ERA has hovered around 4.70 this season, which is more reminiscent of the 2016 and ‘17 seasons, where he had a 5.07 ERA.
“It’s been challenging to deal with, but he finds ways to still go about his business and do everything he needs to do to prepare for his starts and then go out there and pitch,” said Baldelli.
“He doesn’t complain about much of this at all. It doesn’t come up in conversation, but we know it’s there, and we know he’s dealing with it. And he’s found ways to make it work, even though it hasn’t always been easy.”
Gibson has hinted at various illnesses throughout the year, and it seemed to get worse at the end of the season.
“I started getting a little cough in Miami, the second day there,” said Gibson on Aug. 3, referring to the second game against the Marlins, which took place on July 31.
“Then my kids have been sick for about seven to 10 days. So I got home and they were hanging on me. Can’t stay away from them when you’ve been away from them for seven days. So ended up getting their sickness here for the last two days. A little bit of a head cold, a little bit of drainage, a little bit of cough, a little sore throat.”
He went 6⅔ innings and only gave up two earned runs against Kansas City on Aug. 3. But struggled in his next start, giving up five earned runs in 4⅓ innings against Cleveland on Aug. 8.
“Overall, in the start, I felt pretty good,” said Gibson after his start against the Indians. “Physically, I felt good. Still obviously a little bit under the weather, but physically, I felt similar to the last one. Just felt like towards the fourth or fifth inning, as the pitch count got up there, I think it kind of took a toll on me a little bit.
“I started doing too much with my body, and that’s kind of what I end up doing when I get a little bit more tired and try to do a little bit too much instead of just letting it go.”
By Aug. 14 he said he was feeling just fine, but he ended up on the injured list a month later with ulcerative colitis.
“We know what’s been going on with him, and it hasn’t gone well. This is something that he’s been dealing with since this winter. It’s been here the entire time,” said Baldelli on Thursday.
“Because he doesn’t talk about it on a daily basis, do we know when he’s not having his best week, or feeling good? Do we always know it? No. But we know overarchingly this is something that he’s been battling.”
Gibson has never said he regressed this year because of illness, and he’s never presented it unsolicited as an excuse. He’s also responsible for the results once he tells the Twins he is okay to take the mound. But all of this should be factored in when evaluating his season, and if Minnesota decides to retain him next year.