ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. — A big reason Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman has taken major steps forward this season is that he’s found ways to put hitters away, whether it’s been by strikeout or by inducing soft contact.
The result has been deeper starts and fewer runs allowed. Gausman has still allowed his share of hits, but has dramatically cut his walk rate from both last season and his career average.
But in Sunday’s 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, Gausman took a step back, and his inability to put hitters away with two strikes was his downfall in his shortest nonejection outing in 13 months.
“Kevin just wasn’t able to, when he did get ahead, to put people away like he’s been doing,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “It’s one of the most challenging things in sports is stay together mechanically over long periods of time. Not only in an outing, but in outing to outing. Kevin’s been so good, that one kind of catches you by surprise because he’s been pitching so well.”
In allowing seven runs over 2 2/3 innings Sunday, Gausman allowed 10 base runners — six hits, two walks and two hit batters — and six of those batters reached after Gausman had two strikes on them, including both hit batters.
“I just got into a lot of situations where I had the advantage and kind of had the hitter right where I needed to and just needed to execute the pitch and I just wasn’t able to on a lot of guys,” Gausman said.
Of the four run-scoring hits the Rays had off Gausman, two of them were with two-strike counts, including Brad Miller’s leadoff homer in the first inning on a 2-2 fastball and an RBI single by Joey Wendle in the third on a full count after Gausman was ahead 1-2.
But the most frustrating part of it for Gausman was that he gave away two at-bats on hit batters, both with two strikes. After allowing the home run to Miller in the first, Gausman had C.J. Cron 2-2 before hitting him with a fastball, and needed a 4-6-3 double-play ball to get out of that jam.
Then with three runs already scored in the third, Gausman was one strike away from getting out of the inning with the score 5-3 when he worked ahead of Carlos Gómez 0-2.
Gomez then took two pitches and fouled off one before getting plunked to load the bases. Two pitches later, Christian Arroyo hit a 1-0 splitter for a two-run single that chased Gausman from the game.
“It’s frustrating, but back to the drawing board,” Gausman said. “I’ve got another one in a couple days. There were a lot of things that were good in my last couple starts and I feel like I’m in the right direction, but today just wasn’t one of those days. Really from the get-go, I was having a hard time commanding my fastball and being able to throw it up in the zone, which is big for me.”