Pioneer Press Column

Pitcher Kyle Gibson: I’m throwing because I ‘want’ to

By: Charley Walters, Pioneer Press

Minnesota Twins Pitcher Kyle Gibson, who beat the Angels on Friday night, might finally be returning to his potential. He has struggled emotionally.

“That’s been the big adjustment for me,” said Gibson, 29, who three years ago won 13 games for a club that won just 70 all season. “There were some physical things that I’ve worked on and tried to correct with my delivery and stuff, but mostly it was just mentally and my mentality toward what I was doing.”

“I know that’s probably a little different for fans, but if you just compare it to their jobs as well … I was taking my job and making it so important that I just couldn’t sustain it. Every pitch, every batter, I was putting so much importance on it that what I was doing was defining my identity on the field and defining what I was thinking about myself.”

“We’re all going to go through bad stretches, and for me, the first three starts (this season) impacted the next three before I got sent down (to Class AAA Rochester) because of the struggle, and you should never let one, or even three starts, define who you are.”

So at Rochester, Gibson had a good chat with Twins psychologist Rick Aberman.

“It was about the basic thoughts of what do I ‘need’ and what do I ‘want,’ ” Gibson said. “Almost before every pitch, I was telling myself what I ‘needed’ to do. And Dr. Aberman explained, in all reality, you don’t ‘need’ to do anything on the baseball field.”

“You ‘want’ to do everything. And when you want to do things, you make the choice to do it. But when you ‘need’ to do things, you have no choice over it — you just do it or you fail. It really made a lot of sense to me.”

Sports, for sure, can be mentally taxing, especially in the major leagues.

“So now I’m trying to make sure I’m shifting my mentality and understanding that every pitch I throw, I’m throwing because I ‘want’ to, where I want. When you fail at something you want to do, the impact on your identity and on life is not nearly as big as if you fail at something that in your mind you ‘needed’ to do.”

“When you’re going through tough times, it’s not always just because your slider isn’t good or because your fastball command isn’t good — it could start with something even deeper than that.”

“I think what I was finding is that my mentality pre-pitch was helping me fail — everything was snowballing because of the importance I was putting on each pitch. And before you know it, you’ll have four bad pitches in a row and you get yourself in a jam. Well, you’re now thinking about the previous four pitches, plus trying to do something down the road, and you just can’t do it.”

Gibson was getting plenty of advice.

“Everybody the whole time was saying ‘just be you — you’ve had success here, and just be Kyle Gibson,’ ” he said. “Well, my idea of Kyle Gibson was changing because of how my mentality was toward each pitch.”

Gibson’s physical stuff on the mound is too good for him not to be a winning pitcher.

“That’s what everybody was telling me,” he said. “And I was getting to the point that I knew that, but I don’t know that I was believing it because of where my mentality was. The thought that I was having about myself was being driven by six (mostly ineffective) starts instead of looking at the times that I’ve had extended success and realizing I’ve done this before. I was letting six starts kind of overshadow everything, and that’s the problem.”