The Orioles lose to the Tigers, 6-5. (Jon Meoli, Baltimore Sun video)
As he lay in his hotel bed hours earlier, Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman committed to changing his pitching mechanics on the fly for Wednesday's matinee.
With every pitch from the windup in Wednesday's 6-5 loss to the Tigers, he brought his hands all the way behind his head before going into his delivery instead of bringing them to rest in front of his face, as he's traditionally done. He pitched into the seventh inning and allowed two runs.
Two things have been established with Gausman as a big league pitcher: he has a great arm, and he'll tinker as much as he needs to unlock it. And then he might tinker some more. This latest adjustment, he said, is one with potential.
"It was good," Gausman said. "A couple times, I hit my hat on the way up, so I need to figure that out. I think it'll come with reps, being a little bit smoother and being more on time every single pitch. But it's definitely something I can build on."
The adjustment was born out of his dry throws off the mound Tuesday at Comerica Park, his day-before-starting ritual.
"I just kind of started messing around with it," Gausman said. "And it felt really good. I felt like I was landing in the same spot every time, and just felt like I was really reaching toward home plate. I told [pitching coach Roger McDowell] yesterday that I was going to do it, and he kind of challenged me a little more and said, 'No, you're not.' And whenever someone challenges me that I can't do something, I'm probably going to do that."
His problem, he said, is that he tends to leak toward home plate too quickly in his delivery instead of staying over the mound as he begins it. This solution "just clicked," he said.
"I'm a professional athlete. I can do this," he told himself.
A year ago Wednesday, he was shelled in Cincinnati to the tune of eight runs in 2 2/3 innings. The following day, he watched video with McDowell, and the pitching coach suggested he was throwing too far across his body and needed to be stepping more consistently in line toward home plate. Gausman was admittedly stubborn. The resulting adjustment didn't take hold until mid-June.
He credits it with saving his season, and touted it as a reason 2018 held such promise for him.
The day he chose to make his delivery change featured a 36-degree first-pitch temperature and came as the Orioles asked him to stop a four-game skid, their most recent win coming when he beat the Toronto Blue Jays a week ago. That they fell, 6-5, was not his doing.
Gausman allowed nine hits, and left with two runners on and no outs in the seventh inning, but the only runs came on solo homers by Miguel Cabrera and Jeimer Candelario. He was solid otherwise, using his plus splitter and a breaking ball that has developed this year to keep the Tigers off his fastball. Despite those weapons, Gausman's success typically relies on that pitch. Eight of Detroit's nine hits came on his fastball, according to Statcast data from BaseballSavant.com, but only one came around to score, on the Candelario home run.
He also dispelled some questions about his fastball velocity. The pitch sat 94-96 mph in the sixth inning after starting out in the 91-92 mph range, with manager Buck Showalter indicating that he's taking something off the pitch and trying to sink it more with a two-seam grip instead of overpowering hitters, as he has sometimes gotten into trouble doing.
Between the new pitch, the new delivery and now this new tweak, it's a lot to rely on. But Showalter sees the progress. After Gausman allowed six runs in four innings in his first start April 1, he has a 3.94 ERA (seven earned runs in 16 innings) over his three most recent starts, albeit with a 1.5 WHIP.
"I think Kevin, I'm not broadcasting that he's trying to two-seam the ball a little bit more, trying to work some balls on the ground, which he's doing, induce some weak contact," Showalter said. "That's one of the byproducts of being around guys like [Andrew] Cashner, and Dylan [Bundy] pitches that way a lot, and I think you'll see it with [Alex] Cobb that more is not always better.
"I do look at [his velocity], but I don't run up to him and say, 'Golly.' His work days are going great, he's competing and doing a lot better this time of year than he did last year. I'm proud of him."