The Minnesota Twins will have plenty to lean on Tuesday when they take a red-hot pitcher and an even hotter hitter into the middle game of a three-game series against the visiting Minnesota Twins.
On Monday, Twins outfielder Byron Buxton was named the season’s first American League player of the month, earning the honor for an April in which he batted .426 with eight home runs, 14 RBIs and 15 runs scored over his first 18 games. He also stole three bases and flashed a 1.363 OPS.
His batting average and OPS were franchise records for a Twins player before May 1. He did go 0-for-3 on Monday, but he hit the ball hard twice and added a walk with a run scored after stealing a base.
“I think it’s the confidence, getting in the batter’s box and just being yourself and having the ability to swing freely,” Buxton said of his opening-month prowess on MLB Network. “I like to go up there and hit the ball, put the ball in play and produce those runs for the team to get us any win any way I can. My confidence right now is very high.”
Confidence also figures to be high with Twins left-hander J.A. Happ (2-0, 1.96 ERA), who will take the mound Tuesday. Happ made consecutive seven-inning outings for the first time in over two years, going 7 1/3 scoreless innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 23 and giving up two runs over an even seven on Wednesday against the Cleveland Indians.
Happ is 5-2 with a 3.19 ERA over seven career starts against the Rangers, earning a victory in each of his last three starts against them since 2016.
The Rangers will have their own formidable pitching threat on the mound in right-hander Kyle Gibson (3-0, 2.16), who had a forgettable Opening Day outing against the Kansas City Royals, but has been terrific since.
Gibson lasted just a third of an inning on April 3, giving up five runs on four hits with three walks against Kansas City. His day ended after 32 pitches. He has been as good as it gets since, going 3-0 with a 0.82 ERA over his next five starts. The Rangers are 4-1 in those games.
Now he faces his former team, having pitched for the Twins his first seven major league seasons. Gibson went 67-68 with a 4.52 ERA from 2013-19 in Minnesota over 193 appearances (188 starts).
Gibson worked with a private pitching instructor during the offseason, and a plan of continuous throwing over consistent weight training has done him wonders.
“Besides the health, this was the first year I really didn’t stop throwing,” Gibson said. “I did a more active rest period during October and November.”
Now comes his first ever appearance against the Twins. Minnesota will want to win, of course, but they figure to be at least a bit conflicted against their former longtime teammate.
“I expect him to be really looking forward to going out there and facing a bunch of his old teammates, and I look forward to seeing him out there,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Gibby did some really good things for us, and he’s a great guy, too.”
–Field Level Media