Orioles manager Buck Showalter talks about the injury to pitcher Kevin Gausman. (Eduardo Encina, Baltimore Sun video)
SARASOTA, FLA. — Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman could joke about it a few hours after the fact, saying that the large cut just below his left eyebrow made him look a little tougher — calling it a "battle scar."
"Yeah, right, it looks like I got into a bar fight," Gausman deadpanned.
But it was no laughing matter when Gausman collided with Detroit Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario behind home plate in the top of the second inning of the Orioles' 8-6 Grapefruit League loss at Ed Smith Stadium. The sight of last year's Opening Day starter falling to the ground startled, hunched over holding his head as his hand filled with blood was scary.
Gausman was backing up home plate on Leonys Martín's RBI single to center field, and with Adam Jones' throw up the third-base line, Gausman collided with Candelario, who was the on-deck batter. Gausman believes his face hit Candelario's helmet brim, which caused a gash below his left eyebrow.
Orioles reporters Eduardo Encina and Peter Schmuck discuss the injury to Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman during a Grapefruit League game. (Eduardo Encina, Baltimore Sun video)
"I've been playing baseball for a long time, and I've never ran into a guy," Gausman said. "So, it's just kind of one of those freak things. I watched it back, and ran right into the brim of his helmet. I think that's what kind of caused me to get a little slice. … Right when it happened I didn't know who I hit. So, I didn't know what happened. I figured it out pretty quick. Figured out I was bleeding a good bit. Just better to kind of lay there."
Said Orioles manager Buck Showalter: "I was watching the ball in play. I didn't see it. I heard it."
Gausman sat up while being evaluated by head athletic trainer Brian Ebel, and was then removed from the game. It appeared that Ebel treated Gausman for a cut to his face and also conducted a concussion test.
"Just came in here and went through the concussion protocol," Gausman said. "They asked me some questions, made sure I knew what day it was, that type of thing. Most days I don't. It just happens to be one of my buddy's birthdays, that's how I know it's the 26th. Any other given day I might have messed that up. Then just kind of went through some protocol, made sure my neck was OK and that type of thing. But, yeah, I'm fine."
Despite being carted off the field by team trainers with Gausman holding a towel to his head to stop the bleeding below his eyebrow, he emerged from the baseball operations building less than two hours later joking around about the play, only complaining of a sore back.
"My back is a little stiff," Gausman said. "I iced my back. I think that's kind of a precautionary thing. There's no reason why I shouldn't be able to be out there in the next couple days.
"Watching it on video, we kind of hit bodies first. And then my head hit his head. At first it felt like I got the brunt of it. But when I watched it back, I knocked him down, too."
Showalter was cautious after the game, saying the team will have to keep an eye on Gausman the next few days,
"That's one of those things, kind of like a minor accident, you wait and see," Showalter said. "He's going to be sore in some places where he's not normally sore. We got lucky with his eye. When I first got out there I thought [it was worse]. But that's how quick things could change."
The Orioles can't afford to lose Gausman, who started a American League-high 34 games last season. Even with the recent additions of veterans Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman, the Orioles' starting pitching depth is unproven. The fact that it appears Gausman shouldn't miss any time is good news for the Orioles, but initially, it was a scary scene.
"Yeah, I mean, I didn't know what had happened," Gausman said. "It's one of those things, it's baseball. Those things are gonna happen. I've had line drives that have hit me in the leg, in the foot, and come close to hitting me in the face before. Those are the things that you've got to deal with. Kind of comes with the territory."
The Orioles right-hander struggled in his brief time on the mound Monday, allowing seven of the 10 batters to reach base.
He left the game trailing 3-1 — all three of those runs coming in the second inning — and with two runners on base. Minor leaguer Matt Wotherspoon allowed both inherited runners to score, so Gausman was charged with five runs.
Gausman said he would give himself a "mulligan" in his first outing — he allowed five singles, a ground-rule double and a walk — saying he didn't have good command of his four-seam fastball, which was 91-94 mph on the stadium radar gun.
"It was up when I was trying to make a pitch down in the zone," Gausman said. "But it's a work in [progress]. … Command of my four-seam wasn't what I wanted."
Showalter said Martín was likely going to be his last or second-to-last hitter. Gausman had already thrown 39 pitches when he left the game.
Gausman said he was pleased with the feel of his slider, as well as the two-seam sinker he's working on this spring after learning a new grip from new teammate Andrew Cashner. Gausman entered this year as primarily a fastball, splitter, slider pitcher, so giving him another weapon will help, and Cashner's sinker has vicious late break that comes in to righties and tails away to lefties.
"I felt really good with it today. I felt like I had some really good action," Gausman said of the sinker. "I didn't get a chance to talk to [catcher] Chance [Sisco] when I came out of the game, but that's one thing I wanted to ask him. He was calling it a lot. Usually when a catcher is calling something it means you kinda got it that day. He was calling my sinker a lot and calling my slider. Those are the two pitches I'm working on, especially this spring. Missed some pitches, ended up walking a guy. It's kind of a mulligan the first time out there. So, looking forward to getting back in here tomorrow, getting my workout in. Hopefully they'll let me do stuff."
Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop missed the first exhibition game because of bursitis in his left elbow, but he said it was nothing to worry about and proved that with a big performance in Monday's loss to the Tigers.