Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman likely still has two more spring training starts before the regular season begins, but if the results of his Grapefruit League outing against the Detroit Tigers on Sunday afternoon were any indication, the club's leading candidate to be Opening Day starter appears close to ready.
Gausman threw five shutout innings in a 7-1 loss to the Tigers, allowing one run and three base runners (two singles and a walk) while striking out eight batters.
Now in his fifth big league camp, Gausman realizes the process of spring training, and on Sunday he was confident throwing any of three pitches — his fastball, changeup and slider — in any count. Gausman, who threw 78 pitches (48 strikes) on the afternoon, also became the first Orioles starter this spring to complete five innings.
“I think the biggest thing for a starter is getting up and down five times,” he said. "That was my goal today, to get to my pitch count and get up and sit down five times. When you can do that, I feel like that can progress you to the next outing, which will probably be six innings, 85 pitches, something like that. With today being five [innings], 75 [pitches], it was good getting up and down five times.”
Gausman recorded five strikeouts his first time through a Tigers batting order that included only one bona fide starter, and did not allow a base runner to reach second base.
“There are some things in my delivery that I’m feeling that I know aren’t what they’re going to feel like during the season,” Gausman said. “My stride was a little shorter today than it normally is. I think that has something to do with, during the season, you have more adrenaline, and obviously, the games mean [there is] a little more that goes into every pitch. But yeah, physically and mentally, I feel like I’m just about there. With, I think, 12 days left in camp, I’ll take that feeling right now.”
Gausman said he will begin to incorporate his split-fingered fastball in his next start, as he likely will be stretched to six innings.
“The biggest thing is just to get up and down that many times,” Gausman said. “That’s really the last thing that comes from a starter, getting used to sitting down for sometimes 30 minutes between innings. Luckily, we didn’t have a situation like that today, but those are the things that will kind of mess you up the first couple times.”
Gausman worked ahead of hitters on Sunday, especially early. He threw first-pitch strikes to 12 of the first 15 batters he faced entering his final inning of work.
"He had a lot of counts in his favor," manager Buck Showalter said. "A good example: He went 0-2 on a guy, and so many times you see a couple of pitches thrown from guys that serve no purpose. They’re a ball right out of their hand, and he dotted a fastball down and away for strike three. That’s the type of thing you’ve got to do, some weak contact early in the count. Of course, he was carrying command of three pitches today. That won’t happen much during the season for any pitcher."
Gausman left the game with the Orioles leading 1-0, but the Tigers scored seven straight runs against the Orioles bullpen.
They scored two runs off left-hander Richard Bleier in the sixth. Right-handed reliever Zach Stewart allowed a two-run homer to pinch hitter Matt Murton in the seventh, and right-hander Jesus Liranzo yielded a two-run homer to John Hicks in the ninth.
Stewart's spring turning sour: Stewart opened spring training posting five consecutive scoreless outings, but he’s now allowed homers in back-to-back Grapefruit League appearances.
Stewart, who threw 8 2/3 scoreless innings to start his spring and surrendered just two hits over that span, gave up the homer to Murton on Sunday and, in his previous outing Wednesday, yielded a grand slam to the Pirates’ Phil Gosselin.
Stewart’s spring ERA is now 5.06.
Davis with a multihit game: First baseman Chris Davis has struggled this spring and entered Sunday’s game hitless over his past four Grapefruit League games, a stretch spanning 10 at-bats.
But Davis recorded his first multihit game this spring with a pair of hits off left-hander Matthew Boyd. He laced a double down the right-field line in his first at-bat and hit an opposite-field single in his second at-bat. He also drew a walk in his last plate appearance.
Davis is 5-for-22 this spring with eight strikeouts and six walks. He has yet to homer.
The Orioles' only run came on Trey Mancini’s RBI double to left in the second inning, which scored Davis.