Orioles reporter Jon Meoli on the progress right-hander Kevin Gausman has made this spring after he pitched five shutout innings in a Thursday’s 1-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. (Jon Meoli, Baltimore Sun video)
JUPITER, FLA. — Even when his pitching line doesn't back it up, Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman measures the quality of his starts by the quality of contact against him.
Using either barometer, the 27-year-old Gausman left the Orioles' 1-0 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium happy.
He pitched five shutout innings, allowing two hits and walking one with one strikeout, and said that two weeks out from Opening Day, he has every pitch of his growing arsenal at his disposal.
"Early on, I didn't really have a good feel for my breaking ball, and every inning it seemed like everything got better," Gausman said. "That's really all you can ask, to be able to make adjustments. I was real happy with that, and made some really good pitches in even counts, 2-2, 1-1 counts. As a starting pitcher, you need to win those counts.
"I threw a lot of really good sinkers in on guys' hands — got Yadier [Molina] on two of them, two weak ground balls. A lot of good things to take out of today. Mostly, a lot of ground ball outs. ... Only gave up a couple hard-hit balls, so that's always good."
Gausman allowed a single to the leadoff man, right fielder Dexter Fowler, but retired the next eight batters he faced before Fowler reached again on an error charged to second baseman Jonathan Schoop with two outs in the third inning. He walked the next batter, shortstop Greg Garcia, but got out of the inning and used a fifth-inning double play to erase a single by third baseman Jedd Gyorko and end a strong outing, having thrown 80 pitches with 52 strikes.
He did so using his typical four-seam fastball, which began around 91 mph and ended regularly at 95, plus the sinker he's learning from new teammate Andrew Cashner, the breaking ball he was told to throw more often by the Orioles hitters he faced in his simulated game last week, and the splitter he used to not throw in spring training out of fear of blisters developing.
"I'm throwing everything, and I think in years past, I kind of handcuffed myself a little bit in waiting to throw my splitter," Gausman said. "It's something that's a big pitch for me, so I knew I had to start throwing it early. The first month of the season last year, that was one pitch I just didn't have a feel for at all. I threw some really good ones today, and like I said, my breaking ball has really come a long way and the contact I'm getting on it is really good.
Manager Buck Showalter said he can tell Gausman is in a good place. After exiting his first start Feb. 26 following a collision behind home plate, he pitched three shutout innings March 3 before a four-inning simulated game last Friday.
“He's got a good crisp breaking ball going on, attacking the strike zone, kind of picking up where he left off last year,” Showalter said. “Kevin's had a good spring. … It's spring training and he's right where he needs to be. I'm really happy. With a couple more starts left, he's right where he needs to be.”
Gausman believes both his physical well-being and the caliber of his pitches benefited from an early start to his preparation ahead of spring training.
"I started throwing about 10 days before I normally do, and it doesn't seem like much, but that's a whole other two, three more bullpens if you think about it. I felt really locked in coming into camp, and more importantly, my body feels really good and I felt good in the fifth. Right now, that's very, very important, and it's always good to take away from today."
Left-hander Luis González, right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis, left-hander Tanner Scott, and right-hander Lucas Long completed the shutout for the Orioles, whose only run came on Schoop's fifth home run of the spring.
Showalter said he’s been impressed with González, who the team has now called over from minor league camp three times. He said the 26-year-old left-hander who hasn’t pitched above High-A Frederick could pitch his way onto the major league roster this season.
Similar praise was reserved for Scott, who worked around a leadoff single in a scoreless eighth.
“Tanner pretty quietly has had a pretty good spring,” Showalter said. “It's been fun to watch. He's not trying to overthrow. You see the velocities are still good, but not trying to see how hard he can throw it. And the breaking ball has come leaps and bounds.”