ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman continues to show that he has grown from the flame-throwing pitcher he was in his previous major league stints to a much more polished starter who can use all his pitches to limit damage.
Gausman, 23, survived a bases-loaded jam with no outs in the first inning Wednesday, carefully dissecting Tampa Bay Rays hitters and making sure he didn't give them anything to hit that could have led to a big inning. He kept the ball low in the zone, using his split-finger changeup to strike out both James Loney and Ben Zobrist for the first two outs before getting an inning-ending flyout.
"What a great job huh?" catcher Caleb Joseph said. "He did a great job. He faced some adversity there and really gritted his teeth and closed it out. He was pounding the bottom of the zone with some velocity, and his pitches are hard to get sometimes. He did a great job of battling back and really shutting it down for us. That really saved the game for us. They had an opportunity to bust it open right there. Not only did he shut it down, he went six innings for us. What a great job by that guy.
"He continued to make quality pitches over and over and over. Sometimes with a guy with less maturity, you will see them leave the ball over the middle, and that's where the damage is done. But he kept battling and battling. Even when the first guy got on, the second guy got on, he still made quality pitch after quality pitch."
After that 35-pitch first inning, Gausman went on to throw five more shutout innings.
"I'd have signed up in blood for six innings," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
Coming off the field following the first inning, Gausman was visibly frustrated by home plate umpire Pat Hoberg's tight strike zone, but he was calmed down by pitching coach Dave Wallace and Joseph in the dugout.
"Dave and Caleb both came and said to me, 'Don't worry about what's going on behind the plate,' " Gausman said after the game. " 'Just make your pitches and guys are going to be swinging.' They were pretty aggressive, so I felt like I got some strikes that way. That's just part of the game."
The Orioles have definitely seen a difference in Gausman's approach since last season's stint as a starter. He realizes he can't live on his high 90s fastball and has become more confident with his secondary pitches, including his slider and his split and circle changeups. He's also learning to pitch to contact when he needs to, realizing that getting groundball outs can help him persevere through a game.
As Joseph said after the game, Gausman is truly developing into a pitcher rather than just a thrower.
"It's been huge, especially the second and third times through the lineups," Gausman said of using his secondary pitches. "Guys are going to be aggressive trying to get something going. They'll be looking first-pitch fastball or especially when guys get on base, they'll be ambushing trying to look for a fastball. The big thing for me has been being able to throw my secondary pitches for strikes and also getting ground balls on them, too."
-- The Orioles received a big outing from right-hander Tommy Hunter on Wednesday. After allowing runs in each of his past two games, Hunter retired all six batters he faced, pitching clean seventh and eighth innings on 22 total pitches.
That not only allowed Showalter to stay away from right-handers Darren O'Day and Ryan Webb, and left-hander Brian Matusz, but it also let him not have to extend closer Zach Britton into the eighth.
"We need him badly," Orioles designated hitter Nelson Cruz said of Hunter. "And it was nice to see him pitching that well today. I think, for his confidence, it was good."
Britton needed just six pitches Tuesday to record a save, and Wednesday he retired the Rays in order in the ninth on 12 pitches.
"I would have stretched [Britton] today, but Tommy kept us from having to do that," Showalter said. "We're going to need Tommy. I've said before, we're going to need Tommy to pitch like he did last year for us in that non-ninth inning for us, especially with that six-man bullpen. I don't know how much longer we're going to go with it, but we'll see."
-- Showalter seemed surprised when he was told after Wednesday's game that the win was his 1,200th career victory.
"How many losses?" Showalter said. "You know what that means? You get an opportunity for [1,200] more if you've got good players. It means I'm old. It means I'm old."
Showalter, who owns a career 1,200-1,129 record, ranks 40th on the all-time managerial wins list. He recently passed former Orioles skipper Mike Hargrove (1,188 wins).
He is the third-winningest active manager in baseball, behind the San Francisco Giants' Bruce Bochy (1,573) and the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Scioscia (1,271).