On the night the Orioles learned bedrock starter Chris Tillman needs a stint on the disabled list to rid him of shoulder discomfort, Kevin Gausman kept one of the best teams in baseball scoreless for six innings in a breezy Orioles win.
Tillman's absence isn't seen as one that will linger much past the required two weeks on the disabled list, but in a season when he's been unleashed as a full-time starter from the get-go and taken some lumps doing so, Gausman knows there's an opportunity in front of him to step up and become the top starter he was supposed to become when the Orioles drafted him fourth overall in 2012.
"I think everybody knows that Tilly is our No. 1 guy," Gausman said. "He's our ace. When he goes down, another guy is there to step up. And I don't know if he's going to be here forever. You've just got to step up and try to be one of those guys. Obviously, we're upset that his is happening, but hopefully he'll take two starts off and hopefully he comes back ready to go."
To Gausman, stepping up and being that reliable top starter means replicating nights like Tuesday. He said he battled against a Nationals team that either fouled off or spit on so many of his best offerings. He still got to the point where he was able to "look up, and somehow, I didn't give up a run."
Gausman scattered six hits and walked two with just two strikeouts (and a season-low five swinging strikes), but extended an August that has seen him drag his ERA to below four on the season (3.92) with a 3.03 ERA this month.
He's been forthcoming about his faults this season, including the 23 home runs and 1.63 home runs per nine innings that rank among the league's worst, his drastic home/road splits (2.48 home ERA, 5.32 on the road) and his penchant for long at-bats and innings that drive up his pitch count and shorten his outings.
It takes minimizing all that to be the kind of frontline starter the Orioles need Gausman to become in Tillman's absence. Gausman, likewise, wants to start seeing it from himself.
"It's just being more consistent," Gausman said. "I think that's the biggest difference between being a two and a three and being an ace. An ace, every time those guys take the mound, you know you're going to get a quality start out of those guys. If not a quality start, they're going to go deep into the game for you. Just try and be an innings eater, and especially right now, win the games you need to win."
Showalter was impressed by the work Gausman gave him.
"You could say there were a lot of deep counts and a lot of pitches in three or four or five innings, but you can't drop your guard against those guys," Showalter said. "They have so many landmines through their order that you've just got to keep grinding. We'll take the finished product. He gave us six shutout innings and Kevin wanted to go another inning. I feel good, knock on wood, about the way he and Dylan [Bundy] feel right now this time of year."