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Opening Day Outlier? Gibson Pitching Like Rangers 'Ace'

Texas Rangers starting pitcher Kyle Gibson has rebounded from a dreadful start on Opening Day to looking like the ace the team believes in.

Texas Rangers starter Kyle Gibson has never been viewed as a No. 1 pitcher throughout baseball. While he was a reliable arm in the Minnesota Twins' rotation, logging at least 158 innings in all but one season from 2014-2019, the term "ace" has never really been tied to Gibson.

However, Gibson looked the part in Sunday's sensational start against the Baltimore Orioles.

"I could have probably sent him back out for the ninth," Woodward said after the win. "He was that good. He felt that good after that last half inning. He pitched like our ace today."

With a very young core of pitching behind Gibson, Rangers manager Chris Woodward put the ball in the 33-year-old veteran's hand for the Opening Day nod this season. Gibson had never pitched on Opening Day — and it showed.

Gibson last just 1/3 of an inning, giving up five earned runs, right after the Rangers offense kicked off the season with a five-spot of their own.

Immediately, skeptics came out in full force.

But since then, he's proven why the Rangers trusted him in the first place. As a matter of fact, he's had arguably the best stretch of his big league career.

"We saw it all spring. We saw it in everything he's done until that Opening Day start," Woodward said. "Whatever reason, it wasn't synced up that day. I don't know if it was a physical thing or what, but since then, he's clearly [showing] the reason he's our No. 1 pitcher."

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In his three starts since then, he's 2-0 with a 0.43 ERA, a 0.81 WHIP, a .187 batting average against, with three walks and 17 strikeouts in 21 innings. He made a heck of a case for American League Player of the Week, but that nod went to Chicago White Sox southpaw Carlos Rodón, who threw a no-hitter against the Cleveland Indians on Wednesday.

Three starts is far too small a sample size to declare Gibson as a bona fide ace. To be fair, the Rangers didn't get a true look at Gibson's potential in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic heavily impacted the season where it was unfair to declare any finalities on any player, good or bad. He was also coming off a season in 2019 where he battled ulcerative colitis. This, along with Gibson throwing a so-far-effective cutter into the mix, is the first time we are getting a true look at what he can do in a Rangers uniform.

That new cutter has become a very good fourth weapon against left-handed hitters for Gibson, along with his sinker, four-seam fastball, and changeup. It's a pitch he only began throwing near the end of last year, but he is handcuffing left-handed hitters with it. He's thrown it 44 times this season (14.8 percent of his arsenal), with only one hit allowed (.111 batting average against), which was against a right-handed hitter.

Gibson's sinker-slider combination has been his bread-and-butter, but an effective changeup and the development of the cutter could help him get to the next level.

Beyond the stuff, the Rangers have believed in Gibson. Maybe no one else has. But the Rangers believe they have their ace for 2021. In the last three starts, it's hard to argue with that.

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Chris Halicke covers the Texas Rangers for SI's Follow him on Twitter @ChrisHalicke.
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