Kevin Gausman will garner most of the attention tonight in his major league debut in Toronto, but keep an eye on the man behind the mask.
Not the plate umpire, though would it surprise anyone if he ended up in the middle of a controversy?
I’m referring to catcher Matt Wieters, who will guide Gausman through his first start.
Keeping Gausman from getting too amped up will be one of Wieters’ most important tasks.
“It’s kind of my job every night, to try to get those pitchers in the mindset to where they can have the most success, especially with a young guy coming up,” Wieters said. “Just make him feel like, don’t worry about the results at the end of the game. Just go about your business and go pitch by pitch, and that’s the best way to get through the game. And then you can sit down and think about it after the game’s over.”
They need no introductions. Wieters caught Gausman in spring training, hung with him in the clubhouse and is quite comfortable working and communicating with him.
“He’s a kid who’s got great stuff,” Wieters said. “He’s able to mix in his offspeed stuff, which, for a young guy to have secondary pitches he can throw for strikes is big for him. On top of that, being able to locate his fastball is going to be key.
“He’ll have adrenaline going, but the big thing is just being able to harness it. And once you get through that first inning, it’s just back to settling down and pitching.”
Maybe it will be easier for Gausman to stay grounded at Rogers Centre instead of Camden Yards.
“Yeah,” Wieters said, a rare instance when someone actually agrees with me. “I got to start at home and it was a great experience for me with the crowd, but at the same time, that crowd can get you a little bit too pumped up, especially for a pitcher. So, it might be nice for him to go on the road.
“He’ll be facing a tough lineup in Toronto, but the big thing he’s got to realize is his stuff is going to play up here. He’s just got to be able to pitch like he can.”
Wieters is experiencing a few flashbacks. News of his promotion to Baltimore in May 2009 stopped presses everywhere. Even at my local dry cleaner.
Wieters faced future Orioles farmhand Dontrelle Willis in that May 29 game against the Detroit Tigers. Batting seventh, he went 0-for-4 with a strikeout in a 7-2 victory. The next night, he went 2-for-4 with a double, triple and run scored.
“Anytime somebody gets promoted, and especially for their first time and especially when there’s a lot of expectations from the media and from the fans on a kid, it’s going to take a little bit of a toll,” Wieters said. “But talking to Kevin in spring training, he’s got a good head on his shoulders and he knows what he can do. He just needs to pitch like he can pitch.”
It sounds so simple, and Wieters will try to keep it that way tonight.