Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman didn't feel like he had his best stuff in Tuesday's series opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, but this season has included his share of nights when he has felt the exact opposite and was chased from the game early.
While Gausman still has a lot to show to turn his tumultuous season around, there are signs that he is doing so.
Frustrated by the spiral his season was experiencing, Gausman changed some things after his 3 1/3-inning, seven-run outing at Yankee Stadium on June 11. Most noticeably, he moved from the first base side of the rubber toward the middle, which he hoped would allow him better locate his fastball down and away to right-handed hitters.
Gausman has typically been a reverse-split pitcher – right-handers hit him better than lefties in his career – but this year, right-handers were batting .371 against him entering Tuesday's start in Toronto. However, he's starting to have more success against righties, who are batting just .174 (4-for-23) against him in his past two starts.
On Tuesday, Gausman held right-handers to just three hits in 15 at-bats, a marked improvement from his previous three games against the Blue Jays, in which Toronto righties hit a combined .333 against him.
"Obviously moving over a little on the rubber has made it easier for me to hit down and away to a right-handed hitter," Gausman said. "And so that is huge. And also just pitching more, not being just primarily a fastball pitcher. Early in the season, I got way too fastball-happy in some counts where I should probably be pitching in those counts. That is really something I'm trying to do better is mixing up my pitches -- moving up and down and in and out and try to keep these guys off balance."
On Tuesday, Gausman battled. He posted seven three-ball counts, but walked just two. He threw just at many first-pitch strikes as balls, but allowed just six base runners. He had five at-bats of seven pitches or more, but allowed just two of those batters to reach base.
"It is a flip of a coin," Gausman said. "Some days you go out there and you'll have the best stuff you had all season and give up eight runs pretty quick. Other days, like today, I had to grind, but had my first scoreless outing of the season. So, just weird, yeah."
Gausman set the tone early Tuesday night, sustaining the early 3-0 lead that was given to him. In his first two innings, he inducted a pair of double-play balls that quelled rallies. After allowing a leadoff single to Jose Bautista, he won a nine-pitch at-bat with Russell Martin by inducing a 6-4-3 double play. And in the second inning, he erased a leadoff walk to Justin Smoak with a strikeout-throwout double play with the help of catcher Welington Castillo, who threw Smoak out at second.
"Those situations are huge, two outs and nobody on base, especially with that potent lineup," center fielder Adam Jones said. "I don't care whatever [people say], that they're not swinging the bats like they used to. That lineup scares me. They're professional and they're a lot of veteran hitters up there. Gausman did his thing."
Combine that with Gausman's ability to find his splitter, a pitch that's helped him succeed against lefties – and not need to lean on his slider – later in the game after the Blue Jays saw him establish his fastball, the righty was able to get some key swings and misses to produce his first scoreless outing of the season.
"I've definitely been more consistent and not having those blow-up innings that I had early in the season," Gausman said. "It's tough pitching in the American League. I've done it for a couple of years now, but the biggest thing is the scouting report is out on me. Guys know what I have. I have to be a little better at knowing what guys are trying to do against me. It is one of those things, that's why you have the bullpen sessions in between."