By Taylor Newquist

Two hours of rain and thunderstorms at Target Field kept Minnesota Twins and Tampa Bay Rays fans and players ducking for cover until first pitch shortly after 9 p.m. But for Twins starting pitcher Kyle Gibson, the rain gave way to his best start of the season.

The 30-year-old right hander allowed one run over a season-best eight innings pitched, and struck out nine in his second straight win. His ERA dropped to 3.42  – the lowest of his career, and best since he was named Twins pitcher of the year in 2015. With the 5-1 win, Gibson’s record moved to 4-6, as the Twins improved to 42-49 on the season.

Nearly a year ago, he was optioned to the Twins Triple-A affiliate in Rochester to make room for Jamie Garcia, who is no longer with the team. Gibson said that in Rochester he spoke to a team doctor, who helped him overcome mental blocks and regain his confidence on the mound.

“I was just putting too much importance on each pitch,” Gibson said. “When you do that, and are constantly failing at things that you think you should be really good at, that’s what wrecks your identity. I just lost sight of who I can be.”

Gibson said that he was focusing too much on each individual pitch and on each inning, and that he was putting too much stress on himself.

“I was putting too much on being great or being really good,” Gibson said. “And losing sight of what I needed to do. Now I just go out there and pitch, have fun, and let everything else take care of itself.”

Twins Catcher Bobby Wilson said that all of Gibson’s pitches were on tonight, and that despite throwing 113 pitches he didn’t show signs of fatigue outside of a breaking ball Adeiny Hechavarria hit for a double in the eighth inning.

“He’s been good the whole year; he’s just had bad luck,” Wilson said. “He could easily have 10 wins at this point. It’s just kind of that he pitched well, and we didn’t hit for him, and a couple of times we lost the lead late for him, but overall, it’s been really good.”

Gibson worked on his fastball command against the Rays. He said he’s been working on placing his fastball further in the zone so that hitters are obligated to respect his breaking balls more.

“I did it to [Daniel] Robertson a couple of times in the strike zone down and in,” said Gibson, who struck out Robertson four times on the night. “Not only does that speed him up, but it makes him have to respect that sinker when it’s more in. You have to throw strikes with the fastball to both sides of the plate and that has been really big for me.”

The Twins close out the first half of their season with three more games against the Rays. They are in second place in the AL Central, sitting 7.5 games behind the Indians. They are 7-1 on their 11-game homestand, and now that they are building momentum, Gibson is excited about the prospect of the front office bolstering their team for a run at the division title.

“Our job just like last year is try and make the decisions tough on the front office,” said Gibson. “And give them as much time as possible to get us back in the lead of the division. I feel like here starting after the All Star break we have a chance to be one or two games back and really make those decisions pretty tough on them.”