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Kyle Gibson

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MINNEAPOLIS -- The 2012 season offered two blueprints for how to handle young pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery.

There was the Nationals' much publicized decision to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg in early September to limit his innings total, while the Braves used Kris Medlen in the bullpen for the first four months of the season before inserting him back into the rotation on July 31.

Both pitchers produced impressive numbers -- Strasburg had a 3.16 ERA in 159 1/3 innings and Medlen posted a 1.57 ERA in 138 innings -- but only Medlen pitched down the stretch and in the playoffs.

The Twins will have a similar situation on their hands with top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson, who is heading into his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on Nov. 7, 2011. They still haven't fully decided how they'll limit Gibson's innings, but the right-hander is expected to throw between 130 and 140 innings in '13.

"It all gets down to the organization and what they want and how they want us to handle him," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We'll sit down as we go along. We know restrictions are going to be there, I'm sure. I'll talk to [general manager] Terry [Ryan] as we go along. The first thing is to get him out on the field and get him going through the same things that everyone else is. I'm sure he can't wait to do that, and get right in the middle of the program. He's ready to do that with no restrictions."

Gibson, though, appears more likely to begin the season as a starter and be shut down later in the year; unlike Medlen, he doesn't have any prior experience as a reliever.

He's a strong candidate for Minnesota's fifth spot in the rotation, but he could begin the year at Triple-A Rochester depending on how he fares in Spring Training. Gibson said he's fine with whatever plans the Twins have for him, and he's encouraged by the progress he's made since undergoing the elbow operation.

"I'm open to pitching wherever they want me to pitch," Gibson said. "My goal is to get to the big leagues as fast as I can. If that's as a reliever or as a starter, so be it. Whichever team I'm on, whether it's Rochester or New Britain or the Twins, I'm just going to help them win somehow."

Gibson officially made his comeback last season, when he posted a combined 4.13 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings, split between the Gulf Coast League, Class A Advanced Fort Myers and Triple-A Rochester.

He then pitched in the Arizona Fall League, where he got off to a fast start, but struggled in his last few outings. He ended up posting a 5.40 ERA with 28 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings, to give him a combined 53 2/3 innings on the year.

"I was out there and felt really good," Gibson said. "My one goal in Arizona was to throw and stay healthy. After that, just work on stuff as I go. I feel like if I had better command I would feel really good about my Fall League experience, but since I lost my command at the end that was a little frustrating."

However, it was still an impressive enough showing in '12 to make his return to MLB.com's Top Prospect rankings. He was named the 49th best prospect in baseball on Tuesday.

Gibson said he believes that everything happened for a reason, and that he learned a lot while rehabbing his elbow, which helped him gain perspective both on baseball and in life.

"As a competitor and as somebody who loves playing this game, to have it taken away so quickly and so easily is very humbling," Gibson said. "I feel mentally I got a lot stronger through this. You never know when you're going to be finished playing this game -- one shoulder injury away from having to go into the real world and work an eight-hour day job."

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gardy will need to put a little asterisk in pitch count chapter of his little coaching manual that says "not applicable to gibson".

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