KANSAS CITY, Mo.-Kyle Gibson has been visiting new territory on statistical breakdowns this year, particularly when it comes to his secondary pitches.
According to Sports Info Solutions, Gibson entered Tuesday's start against the Kansas City Royals with the majors' highest swing-and-miss rate on breaking pitches. At 57 percent, the Twins right-hander is well ahead of Arizona's Patrick Corbin (53 percent), Houston's Charlie Morton (52 percent) and Baltimore's Dylan Bundy (51 percent).
A recent breakdown of the top whiff rates on individual breaking pitches showed Gibson's slider at No. 1 in the majors and his curveball at No. 3. In between those was the slider of Seattle Mariners closer Edwin Diaz, with Aroldis Chapman's slider clocking in at No. 5.
Add it all up, and Gibson has pushed his nine-inning strikeout rate from 6.89 last season to a whopping 9.32 this season, 29th among big-league starters and a 35 percent increase. For that, Twins pitching coach Garvin Alston said, the 30-year-old Gibson has his fastball to thank.
"His fastball usage has been superb when it comes to in-zone, pushing guys (off the plate) and how we're setting guys up," Alston said. "He has the talent to do anything he wants to do. If he wants to be a power pitcher, he can be a power pitcher. If he wants to be a sinkerballer, he can do that."
For most of his first five seasons in the majors, Gibson was content to let hitters pound the ball the ground with a sinker-slider-changeup mix. His curveball usage doubled year-over-year in 2017 and has ticked up again (10.7 percent) this year; meanwhile, his changeup has been de-emphasized for a third straight season (down to 11.9 percent).
"He's starting to learn and understand when to use certain pitches," Alston said. "It's starting to come to fruition with the plans that we put together. It's just a better mix of pitches-location and execution of pitches."
The spin rate on Gibson's breaking pitches hasn't increased appreciably, Alston said, and Gibson's fastball velocity is up just a tick on a four-seamer he is using more frequently amid the launch-angle revolution. Add it all up, and Gibson's swinging-strike rate overall has jumped to 11.9 percent, easily a career high.
"Let's face it," Gibson said recently, "when you're taking a bigger swing to hit a homer you open up more holes for the pitcher. The harder the swing and the farther you're trying to hit the ball, you're going to open up some holes. Pitchers are trying to take advantage of that."
First baseman Joe Mauer, out since May 18 with a strained neck and concussion-like symptoms, has been taking ground balls and batting practice on the field back at Target Field.
"He hasn't had any setbacks," manager Paul Molitor said. "Don't want to get too excited about the potential of him being ready sooner than later."
The Twins are hoping Mauer has a couple more good workouts and is ready to come off the disabled list during this weekend's four-game series at home with the first-place Cleveland Indians.
Super utility man Taylor Motter was claimed off waivers from the Seattle Mariners and assigned to Triple-A Rochester.
Motter, 28, has hit .198 with 10 home runs in 390 plate appearances across parts of three seasons with the Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays, where he teamed with Logan Morrison and Jake Odorizzi and had current Twins bench coach Derek Shelton as a hitting coach.
Motter, who also played for Twins third-base coach Gene Glynn in 2014-15 in the Venezuelan Winter League, has started at every position but catcher and center field in the majors. He also has two outings as an emergency pitcher.
Back at third
With Miguel Sano moving back from first base to third on Monday, Eduardo Escobar made his first start at shortstop in just over a month. Although Escobar has been focusing most of his pregame work at third base in that stretch, Molitor said he wasn't worried about the transition.
"I don't think he'll miss a beat," Molitor said.
Escobar opened the year with 15 error-free games at shortstop, where he entered Tuesday with a streak of 45 straight errorless games, dating to July 31, 2016, against the Chicago White Sox.
Santana in rehab
Ervin Santana is scheduled to make his next rehab start Tuesday for Class A Fort Myers in Clearwater, Fla., close to his offseason home. Santana was pulled after just two innings and 45 pitches in his first rehab start on May 23 for Double-A Chattanooga, when he experienced a drop in velocity.