SARASOTA—Kyle Gibson has made one Opening Day start, and it didn’t go well. On April 1st, 2021, with the Texas Rangers, Gibson faced eight Kansas City Royals and retired just one of them. Five runs scored.
On March 30th, he’ll make his second against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, and he’s hoping it’s a lot more memorable.
After that truncated start two years ago, Gibson had an ERA of 135.00. When he pitched six scoreless innings in his second outing, his ERA dropped to 7.11.
Gibson doesn’t want that to happen again.
“We’ll see if we can avoid it,” he said.
Gibson was the logical choice as the Orioles’ Opening Day starter. With John Means, who started the previous two, unavailable because he’s still recovering from Tommy John surgery, except for Cole Irvin, the other prospective starters — Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Grayson Rodriguez and Tyler Wells — are inexperienced.
Gibson will be just the second Opening Day starter since 2010 to be making his debut with the team. Tommy Milone, subbing for an injured Means in 2020, and Kevin Millwood in 2010 were the most recent.
“It’s fun to be on the field for that first game, but it’s not necessarily something I came here and said ‘I wanted to be the Opening Day guy,’” Gibson said.
Gibson signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Orioles last December. He has a lifetime record of 89-91 with a 4.52 ERA in 10 seasons with Minnesota, Texas and Philadelphia.
Last season, Gibson was 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA with the NL champion Phillies, but after a horrible end to the regular season when he had a 9.73 ERA in his last six starts, Gibson pitched only 2 1/3 innings in the postseason.
“The September I had wasn’t how I wanted to pitch last year,” Gibson said.
He has pitched well in his five spring starts for the Orioles, allowing just two runs on 11 hits, striking out 13 and not walking a batter. He’ll make his final start of the spring on Friday night in Sarasota against the New York Yankees.
Manager Brandon Hyde told Gibson he was the choice several days ago.
“If you look at our rotation, we have some guys who don’t have a whole lot of years and Kyle’s the obvious choice from a years standpoint and a veteran in the pitching staff and the rotation,” Hyde said. “We kind of wanted to see what everybody looked like honestly and not make any snap decisions, but I think as camp went along that it was pretty obvious.”
Gibson didn’t want to assume he’d get the assignment to oppose Boston’s Corey Kluber, who has won two Cy Young Awards.
“I don’t know that you really ever know or figure it out until they tell you,” Gibson said. “Coming into a new organization you never know. I don’t know about all these guys, how they pitched, how they finished, where they see these guys in the future.
“I’m still learning some of that. They think about pitching matchups. They think about the rotation, where they put Irvin, where they put different guys. It’s never something you feel like you assume is going to happen.”
Gibson is happy with the honor but realizes it’s just one game of 162.
“It’s just a chance to start a series off,” Gibson said. “The first game of every series is really important whether it’s the first series of the year or even [the second series] in Texas.
“The first guy really sets the tone for how that bullpen is used the next three games … I think it’s just trying to go out there and be a veteran leader and sets the tone for that first series of the year.”
Several of the Orioles who could be playing on Opening Day — Gunnar Henderson, Adley Rutschman and Kyle Stowers — haven’t done it before.
“He’s pitched in some pressure situations and handled things extremely well, so yeah, he’s earned it,” Hyde said.
“I’m trying to not worry too much about any of it. I’m trying to focus on the work every day,” Gibson said. “There are certain things that I want to get better at. Worrying less about where I want to pitch in the rotation and more about how I’m going to pitch when I get the chance. It works out this time that I get to throw the first one. It does mean a lot. I don’t want to downplay that.”
Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB