OAKLAND, Calif. – The biggest sign of Kevin Gausman's growth this season might be the moxie he has shown with his ability to get out of trouble.
The Orioles right-hander did it last month in Tampa Bay, where he loaded the bases in the first inning before getting two key strikeouts and an inning-ending flyout. Earlier this month in Boston, he stranded runners at second and third bases with one out, getting two strikeouts to end the threat.
But in the Orioles’ 10-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday afternoon, Gausman wasn’t able to limit the damage. Three batters into the game, he already trailed, 2-0, after a leadoff walk to Coco Crisp, a triple into the right-center field gap by John Jaso and a wild pitch that allowed Jaso to score.
Gausman allowed a career-worst nine hits through four-plus innings, tying his shortest major league start, as he left the game without recording an out in the fifth inning and trailing, 4-1. Oakland would score three runs in the fifth to take a 7-1 lead.
It was the second time in six weeks that Gausman faced the Athletics. He dominated Oakland hitters June 7, recording the longest start of his career — seven innings — while limiting the Athletics to one run and four hits.
But on Sunday, Gausman said the Athletics learned from the last time they faced him.
“I think they were just really aggressive, and I think you get confidence as a hitter when you get a couple hits in a game, and I think everybody had a hit off me today,” Gausman said. “That’s tough for when our guys come in. I really didn’t establish the fastball in as much as I did the first time I faced them, so it kind of takes away that outer half.”
Gausman faced similar challenges the last time he faced Oakland, but his ability to get ahead of hitters — and use his slider early in the count — helped him maneuver through a dangerous lineup.
This time, Gausman was focused on establishing his mid-90s fastball down in the zone — he threw 10 fastballs before throwing his first split-finger changeup — but he wasn’t getting that call from home plate umpire Jordan Baker. Orioles manager Buck Showalter counted 12 borderline pitches that were called balls.
“That’s definitely another part of growing and learning and just getting through that experience,” Gausman said. “Every umpire is different. Some guys like to call fastballs high, and some guys don’t call fastballs high. Same thing for fastballs down in the zone. That’s a big pitch for me. If I get those calls for strikes, then hitters have to respect it. Now when they see a ball down, they just kind of spit on it because they know it’s going to be ball.”
Athletics third baseman Josh Donaldson did that with a sacrifice fly in the third inning. With runners at the corners and one out following back-to-back singles by Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss, Donaldson worked a seven-pitch at-bat before hitting a run-scoring flyout to center field.
And while the Athletics didn’t swing early in the count often, when they did, they jumped on the fastball. After Crisp opened the game with a six-pitch walk, Jaso jumped on a 93-mph, first-pitch fastball for his RBI triple.
In Gausman’s previous start against Oakland, he conserved his pitches well and mixed his splitter and slider with his fastball. He went into Sunday’s start having won five of his past six decisions. He had allowed one or fewer runs in five of six starts and pitched to a 2.36 ERA in that span.
“I thought, stuffwise, he was OK,” Showalter said of Gausman's performance Sunday. “You’ve got starters with six, seven days in between. You’ve got relief pitchers with seven, eight, nine, 10 days [in between]. It’s tough to get back in. Can you imagine hitters going seven to 10 days without getting any at-bats? … You kind of give them a little pass knowing that it’s going to get better moving forward.”
Moving forward, Gausman said this will be a learning experience for him.
“You take things that you can,” Gausman said Sunday. “My splitter was really good today. I was pretty happy with it, but fastball command, I just want to forget about it.
“I’m better than that, so just kind of go back to the drawing board and focus on that in my side sessions and, more than anything, I think the best thing a starting pitcher can have is a short memory. So just try to forget about this one and move on to the next one.”