Clearwater, Fla. — Still sporting the scar from the collision behind home plate that cut short his spring training debut Monday, Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman erased any concerns about his well-being and began in earnest a spring training he hopes will launch him to a strong start in 2018.
Gausman retired all nine batters he faced on 39 pitches, fanning five, with only one ball leaving the infield. That meant the 27-year-old right-hander left with a 1-0 lead in the Orioles’ 4-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Spectrum Field, and plenty of encouragement for the weeks ahead.
"I was throwing everything," Gausman said. "Had a really good feel for my slider today, and got some strikeouts on it. But more than anything with me, it starts with fastball command. Even the counts I got behind, I was able to get back into and get ground balls and stuff. For me, when I'm going good, I get a lot of ground balls and weak contact. I try to assess my starts on that, and today was pretty good."
While the Phillies put forth a strong roster for the home half of their split-squad games Saturday, Gausman faced little resistance against them. He struck out second baseman César Hernández on an a 96 mph fastball to open the game, then backed it up with a strikeout of slugger Rhys Hoskins on an 85 mph breaking ball. He added a third strikeout of outfielder Nick Williams on an off-speed pitch in the dirt in the second, then ended his day striking out center fielder Collin Cowgill looking at a breaking ball and J.P. Crawford swinging at a 94 mph fastball.
Gausman was just as happy with the results as he was with getting to pitch on his regular day after suffering a cut below his left eyebrow and leaving with five runs on his account Monday.
"I wanted to be on my regular scheduled day," Gausman said. "There's no reason why I couldn't be. It felt great, and you're always trying to take that next step in spring training specifically. It's always good to get out there, and like I said, get through three innings."
That difficult first start will mean there's no way Gausman will repeat the 1.98 ERA he carried out of last spring, but more important will be the stuff he takes north. Even after a great Grapefruit League performance last year, he didn't permanently pull his ERA below 5.00 until late August after a turbulent start to the season.
Gausman said he's looking for different indicators of success than just his numbers this March.
"I did a lot of work in this offseason to make sure my line toward home was way more consistent," Gausman said. "That was one thing from day one, [pitching coach Roger McDowell] was like, 'Hey, you've really been working on it and it shows.'
"I'm landing in the same spot every time. More than anything, I just feel really good with my delivery. Anytime you feel good with your delivery and the ball's coming out and you feel healthy, especially in spring training, that's always good."
“He doesn't seem to be as worried about velocity and overpowering people,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I can tell he's really got a pretty good feel about where he had trouble last year, which was commanding the fastball. I know that's been an area of focus. I know when Roger did the planning for each guy, that was more of a focus they really wanted to make.”
Gausman left ahead 1-0 after center fielder Cedric Mullins walked and scored on a heady piece of base running from first base on a double to left field by catcher Chance Sisco.
Once Gausman left the game, a combination of Josh Edgin, Alec Asher, David Holmberg and Stefan Crichton carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning before the Phillies scratched across two runs against Jimmy Yacabonis. That meant a three-run seventh inning, which featured a two-run home run by right fielder Anthony Santander and a bases-loaded walk for Andrew Susac, was vital for the Orioles.
Tillman begins spring
Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman threw 42 pitches in a two-inning simulated game on the back fields behind Ed Smith Stadium on Saturday morning, and walked away feeling good about his first live action since returning to the club.
Facing a group that included designated hitter Mark Trumbo, rehabilitating outfielders Craig Gentry (hamstring) and Austin Hays (shoulder), plus minor league first baseman Seamus Curran, Tillman worked quickly under the supervision of manager Buck Showalter and McDowell.
Showalter said there was plenty to distinguish what he saw this time around from the version of Tillman who struggled badly in 2017 and finished his walk year with a 7.84 ERA.
"He looks, honestly, I think he's — I don't want to say better shape," Showalter said. "Just because a guy is thinner and lost weight doesn't mean he's in better shape.
"I think he's able to post up a little better on his legs. I think his legs are under him a little more firm. His arm, he doesn't seem to [have] as much of a physical effort to get there. He was really, and the time was kind of getting to him last year, too, he was rushing a little bit. I think he's in a good place as far as the pace at which he's preparing. ... It was good stuff for him, just like [Andrew] Cashner."
Tillman's next step will be a three-inning outing that will also likely come in a simulated game, Showalter said.
Around the horn
Former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith (Maryland), fresh off a Super Bowl win with the Philadelphia Eagles, threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Spectrum Field before Saturday's game. … The Orioles made their first cut of the spring Saturday, optioning injured left-hander Chris Lee (oblique) to Triple-A Norfolk.