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Mar 19, 2014; Jupiter, FL, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson (44) throws against the St. Louis Cardinals during a game at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

RHP Gibson takes lead in race for fifth starting spot

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By Brian Murphy

St. Paul Pioneer Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Twins’ starting rotation came into sharper focus Tuesday, which only complicates Scott Diamond’s fate as Minnesota struggles to find a place for the proven left-hander.

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Diamond allowed the only run in a 4-1 victory over Baltimore at Hammond Stadium, working the middle three innings among a trio of Twins starters who combined to six-hit the Orioles.

More effective was Kyle Gibson, who tightened his grip on the fifth spot in the rotation by closing the game with three scoreless innings. Gibson lowered his earned-run average to 2.20 compared to Diamond’s 5.29.

Diamond, who won 12 games for the Twins as a rookie in 2012, sounded amenable to an unlikely move to the bullpen. He is out of contract options and would have to be removed from the 40-man roster and exposed to waivers before being demoted to Triple-A Rochester, something manager Ron Gardenhire wants to avoid.

“I don’t want to see him in the minor leagues,” Gardenhire said after the game. “I think he should be in the big leagues pitching somewhere. If it doesn’t work out here, I wish he would end up in another big-league uniform. I think he deserves that.

“He’s pitched well enough in this camp. We’ve got number issues and some tough decisions here. We’ll see how they turn out.”

Gardenhire’s comments and the roster crunch indicate the Twins will try to trade Diamond before finalizing their 25-man Opening Day roster on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Gibson is confident and pitching more effectively as camp winds down. The hard-throwing sinkerballer has only allowed only one earned run in his past 10„ innings.

“I think I’ve been pretty satisfied,” said the 2009 first-round draft choice out of Missouri. “I’ve made the adjustments I wanted to make. I’ve been more aggressive, making more quality pitches in the zone and not working behind. Mentally, I’m just better prepared.”

More than two years removed from Tommy John surgery in September 2011, Gibson has been able to let it fly naturally instead of overthrowing or worrying about the consequences.

“Gibby’s been great. He’s been good all through camp,” Gardenhire said. “He’s got a great angle going. The biggest thing is not overthrowing. The ball’s coming out of his hand really nice with a lot of movement. He’s done everything he was supposed to do here.”

Gibson is on track to secure the No. 5 spot behind Pelfrey and Kevin Correia, with Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes at the top of the rotation.

The Twins hoped to get five or six innings out of Gibson in his final spring start. However, rain that scuttled Pelfrey’s start Monday against Tampa Bay left the minor-league fields unplayable, forcing the right-hander to get in his work against Baltimore.

Pelfrey was solid, allowing just two singles while striking out four in three innings. He also induced three groundouts, including a double play ball that snuffed an Orioles threat in the second. He acknowledged feeling “out of sync in the bullpen” because of the extra day’s rest, which Pelfrey blamed for falling behind during a 25-pitch first inning that netted three strikeouts.

“Fastballs that were all balls; their chasing helped,” he said. “I thought after that it got a lot better. I thought (the ball) was down for the most part, which is good.”

Pelfrey will throw a light bullpen Thursday before coming back on three days’ rest to start Saturday’s spring finale against Boston.

Almost two years removed from Tommy John surgery himself, Pelfrey is entering a tell-tale season for pitchers who have come back from the reconstructive elbow procedure. His feel and command returned late last year, but Pelfrey yearns to be a season-long contributor to a revamped Twins rotation.

“Everybody always says the second year is the big year, so hopefully this will be a good one,” he said. “I feel good. Obviously I’m going to take advantage of my last start and continue to build up arm strength and refine some things. With one left I’m pleased with where I’m at right now.”

The starting trio did not need much run support. Trevor Plouffe and Chris Colabello sandwiched RBI doubles around run-scoring singles by Joe Mauer and Oswaldo Arcia. The game was played in a brisk 2 hours, 14 minutes.

“They all were crisp,” Gardenhire said of his pitchers. “Threw the ball really, really well. We played some really good defense out there, too. I think they go hand in hand. When the game’s moving along and guys are throwing the ball over the plate, your defense seems to be into it and today it was.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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