BALTIMORE — Throughout his life, Kevin Gausman has always taken his baseball superstitions to the extreme. From eating powdered donuts between innings during college, to putting his cleats on in a certain manner before each game.
The 23-year-old was brought up last Saturday to fill in for the injured Miguel Gonzalez and pitched seven one-run innings, the best game of his young career. During the game, Gausman found himself pitching better after not paying attention to the game in between innings.
He sat and stared at the ground, or he just zoned out and completely disregarded his surroundings. So needing to continue to impress to perhaps earn a permanent spot in the Baltimore Orioles' rotation, did Gausman watch his teammates attempt to build him a lead Thursday night?
"No, of course not," Gausman said with a grin.
And once again, the right-hander gave up just one run, pitching six solid innings to help the Orioles top the Toronto Blue Jays 4-2 before 17,403 at Camden Yards.
"I really had to grind through that one, but I felt pretty good about it," Gausman said. "I just tried to stay within myself and just tried to pitch to contact, using my defense."
The Orioles starter didn't strike many batters out — only three — and threw 101 pitches, but he never let the Blue Jays (39-29) sustain a rally. Jose Reyes beat out an infield single to lead off the game, but Melky Cabrera then grounded into a 5-3-5 double play as Reyes was thrown out trying to go from first to third on the grounder.
Gausman (2-1) didn't allow a runner to reach second base until the fifth when Juan Francisco hit a leadoff double into the gap in right-center. The Orioles (34-31) had not allowed an extra-base hit in 23 innings prior to that.
Nor had they allowed a run during that stretch. But that ended when Francisco later scored on a Cabrera single to center that cut Baltimore's lead to 3-1.
Gausman returned the next inning, stranded his sixth baserunner of the game, and completed another solid outing. In two starts since being recalled from Class-AAA Norfolk, he has given up two runs on nine hits in 13 innings.
However, Orioles manager Buck Showalter still did not tell what will happen when Gonzalez returns, likely next week.
"He's done what it takes to be considered. He's taking care of his end of it," Showalter said. "Just hope he's starting to grasp what it takes to consistently help this team win."
Gausman, the No. 2 prospect in the organization according to Baseball America, showed glimpses in 2013 that he could be an above-average pitcher, but that was mostly during his work as a reliever late in the year. This time, Gausman is showing why he's projected to be a top-of-the-rotation starter by beating the Athletics and Jays, two division leaders in the AL.
"I think I've polished everything," Gausman said. "Last year when I got to the big leagues was the first time I started throwing the circle change and now it's a pretty big pitch for me."
Orioles starters have allowed two earned runs or less in 11 of the last 14 games, and they haven't given up a home run in 42 consecutive innings.
Baltimore had no trouble early against Toronto starter Mark Buehrle, who entered with the most wins in the majors. Nick Markakis singled to lead off the bottom of the first.
Delmon Young then jolted his second homer of the season to left to put Baltimore up 2-0.
The Orioles designated hitter, who went 2 for 4, hasn't played much this season. Thursday was the first time he started since June 3 and only the second time since May 24.
Caleb Joseph hit an RBI single in the second and Markakis chased Buehrle (10-3) in the seventh when he ripped an RBI double off the right-field scoreboard to make it 4-1. Markakis, who owns a .435 career average against the Jays left-hander, passed Brian Roberts for seventh on the Orioles' all-time hits list with the extra-base knock.
Brian Matusz pitched a scoreless inning of relief, Ryan Webb gave up one run in the eighth, and Zach Britton worked the ninth for his sixth save.
The Orioles shaved one game off Toronto's division lead, now trailing by 3 1-2 games. Thursday was the first step towards a series win for Baltimore, which would move it even closer to the top spot in the AL East.
"We've got to come out and play really good baseball," Young said. "Still got three more months after this. We could sweep here and cut it to half a game. If we play like crap the rest of the year, it doesn't matter."