He just wasn’t very effective.
All that changed Sunday in what was Gausman’s biggest test yet, his big league home debut on a typically sticky Baltimore afternoon against the Detroit Tigers, the best hitting club in baseball.
Gausman wasn’t involved in the decision, but he lasted six strong innings and his teammates mounted another comeback to beat the Tigers, 4-2, before an announced crowd of 39,182 at Camden Yards.
The Orioles (32-25) won two of three against the Tigers (30-25) – both victories on comebacks in the later innings – and took four of five during the abbreviated homestand.
Following Sunday’s game, Gausman wouldn’t say he was relieved after allowing just one run on no walks and five hits – including a fourth-inning, solo homer by Prince Fielder – but he admitted it was the best he had felt in the past two weeks.
“I felt comfortable today. I felt like today was probably the most polished and calm I’ve been out there since I’ve been up here,” said Gausman, the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft. “I don’t know if it had something to do with [pitching at home] or if I was just comfortable with my mechanics and all that.”
After allowing 11 runs in two losses against the Toronto Blue Jays and Washington Nationals, Gausman said he knew he needed to make changes. He worked on refining his changeup and on tweaking his mechanics so that he was pitching more on a downward plane.
It worked. Twelve of the 18 outs he recorded came via ground balls. He also struck out four – and none more impressive than his last one to end his outing. Reigning American League MVP Miguel Cabrera struck out looking at a 97-mph fastball that hit the outside corner.
“He's the best hitter in the game. I just tried to make my pitches and keep everything down,” said Gausman, who also got Cabrera to hit into two double plays. “He's a great contact hitter too, so for him to watch that pitch, I was kind of surprised. He kept fouling off pitches. It was a good battle. It was fun.”
For the first six innings, things weren’t particularly carefree for the Orioles (32-25), who had been shut down by Detroit right-hander Rick Porcello.
Then Orioles first baseman Chris Davis did what he has been doing all season – hitting the long ball and providing a spark with a solo homer to right.
“I thought Chris Davis was the first guy to throw out the ‘get-back-in-it’ mode,” said Orioles manager Buck Showalter.
It was Davis’ major league-leading 20th home run and it cut the Tigers’ lead to 2-1. Davis, who hit 33 last season, smacked his 20th home run on Aug. 19 last year. He’s on pace for 57 this season, which would shatter Brady Anderson’s team record of 50 in 1996.
“It’s obviously good to get off to a good start,” Davis said. “But at the same time you’ve got to keep plugging day-in and day-out, and the numbers will be there at the end of the season.”
Trailing by one, the Orioles then chased Porcello with consecutive singles by Dickerson and J.J. Hardy in the seventh. Pinch-hitter Danny Valencia tied the game with a soft liner to shallow right center against Tigers reliever Phil Coke.
“In this game, you are going to hit some balls hard that are going to be caught. It can be frustrating,” Valencia said. “But then you get hits like that, that you don’t really barrel up that find holes. It’s definitely nice to get those hits. They always say they come back, so hopefully they keep coming back.”
It was just the second pinch hit in 19 at-bats for the Orioles this season. Nate McLouth had a one-out, broken bat single to center that scored pinch-runner Alexi Casilla from second to give the Orioles a three-run inning and their first lead. Casilla had an RBI double in the eighth on a ball hit over the head of Tigers left fielder Andy Dirks to make it 4-2.
But the day’s memorable pitching performance was delivered by another Orioles’ first-rounder in Gausman, who finally showed consistency to go with his tremendous arsenal.
“It's a pretty tough road to start out with, starting out in Toronto and you head to Washington,” Showalter said. “The perfect situation doesn't always match up. I'm real proud of him. I know it meant a lot to him.”
The guys on the other side were fairly impressed, too.
“He's a good looking young pitcher,” said Detroit manager Jim Leyland. “Big-time arm, good stuff, a little crude yet, but good. Pretty impressive.”
There was some speculation that maybe Gausman wouldn’t make Sunday’s start against the defending American League champions after his rough outing versus the Nationals. But Showalter quickly doused that talk last week. On Sunday, he again said Gausman would take his next turn.
That announcement wasn’t a surprise. And neither, perhaps, was Gausman’s performance, given that he kept saying he felt he belonged in the majors.
Sunday was the first time he really proved it, and he did at home with fans cheering continually throughout his performance. Hoping it was a glimpse of things to come.“Obviously, it is fun. I made my [home] debut today here,” Gausman said. “So that was something I won’t ever forget. The fans were awesome. It was a great atmosphere.”