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Kevin Gausman showing his growth, even as Orioles lose to Tigers

Baltimore Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman watches a delivery to the Detroit Tigers during the first inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016.
Baltimore Orioles pitcher Kevin Gausman watches a delivery to the Detroit Tigers during the first inning of a baseball game in Detroit, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016.(Paul Sancya / AP)

Kevin Gausman allowed three runs in six arduous innings in Friday's 4-3 loss to the Detroit Tigers, a start that on the surface fits tidily with neither his recent run of scoreless starts nor the August string of dominance that possibly heralded his arrival as a front-line starting pitcher.

There's a through line to his season, though, from those early and midseason slogs to the late-season surge to Friday at Comerica Park in a playoff atmosphere: Gausman's first full season as a major league starter is starting to yield a pitcher whose state of mind is as impressive as his stuff.

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"The most impressive? It's all impressive," fellow starter Chris Tillman said before Friday's game. "What he's done is impressive, no matter how you look at it. I think he's gotten on a roll. I think a big part of a young guy being successful and being good at this level is having confidence. To get the confidence, you've got to have results. To get results, you've got to have confidence. They kind of play off each other. I think that's been a big thing for him. He's been pretty confident, and throwing the ball really well."

The Gausman he was referring to Friday afternoon was carrying a run of 19 scoreless innings over his three starts entering the night, all in a stretch when Tillman was out nursing a shoulder injury and the Orioles were short a top starting pitcher.

Top starting pitchers post zeroes, but they also keep their team in it when they don't have that shutout stuff. Gausman dealt with the latter Friday, despite a breezy first inning that saw him blow a 95-mph fastball past former MVP first baseman Miguel Cabrera for his first strikeout and the inning's final out.

It quickly became and remained much more complicated than that. Gausman was searching for it early, and had his fastball smacked around some as the Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. He put two on with no outs in the third and pitched around it, then did the same before the game finally unraveled a bit when right fielder J.D. Martinez hit a two-run, two-out single with the bases loaded in the fifth inning.

The middle innings featured some downright battles, with some of the game's best hitters taking Gausman's best, fouling them off and asking for another. He routinely obliged, and only Martinez got the better of him in such a situation.

"Anytime you get in situations like I was with guys on base, with no outs or one out, that's kind of where I go to my bullpen mentality," Gausman said. "There's certain situations where you know as a pitcher, 'If I get two strikes on this guy, I'm going to put him away. I'm going to strike him out.' Then the next guy, you get a ground-ball double play. It's all part of the process. I think the more you're in those situations, the more you're going to learn."

That confidence that Tillman assessed was clearly held in the Orioles dugout as well. When Gausman ran into such starts earlier this season, he would've left after five innings, and maybe allowed a fourth run to squeak in at some point.

Add a few months experience, and a few dominant performances to his resume, and you have a different outcome — not perfect, but better than before.

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"It's about trust, too," manager Buck Showalter said. "You start realizing you're going to have a pretty good finished product if you let him go. He worked out of some tough jams against a good offensive team, operating at the top of their game, and Kevin was solid"

That Gausman came out and snapped through a 10-pitch sixth inning to earn himself a fourth straight quality start, and sixth in eight starts, was a credit to him. He left having allowed three runs on seven hits with a pair of walks and seven strikeouts, his ERA inching up to 3.61.

And that the Orioles saved him from an 11th loss was a credit to the bats, but also a nod to Gausman. Top starters grind through nights like Friday, when playoff stakes are high, and give his team a chance to come back late. Gausman did that, even as the Orioles lost.

"He's kind of earned the right," Showalter said. "I think one of his best innings is his last inning. He's shown us he can take it into that pitch count and be effective. He's working on extra days' rest or we probably wouldn't have done it.

"But Kevin has been solid for us when we need him most. He's in that process that we talk about all the time. Young pitchers, you can't cheat it. He's gone through a lot of things to get to this point. We've talked about taking the governors off of him a little bit because we've done everything to let him go, and we're getting a return for it."

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