While Freddy Garcia was sweating profusely and putting the Nationals’ offense in a deep freeze Thursday night during his eight scoreless innings, Orioles manager Buck Showalter glanced down the bench at young starter Kevin Gausman and noticed how he kept watching intently. Each pitch, each sequence, each out.
Gausman throws 99 mph. Garcia celebrates if his fastball ventures into the upper 80s. They have little in common besides the uniform, but Gausman took advantage of another opportunity to soak up a lesson provided by the soaked veteran.
“What I noticed last night watching him was everything was down in the zone,” Gausman said yesterday while standing in the hallway outside the Orioles’ clubhouse. “I mean, every pitch he was throwing was down in the zone. Even if it wasn’t the pitch he was necessarily trying to make, it was still down in the zone. If you make a mistake down in the zone, it’s a lot better than a mistake up in the zone. And if you throw a ball in the dirt, it kind of switches a hitter’s eye level. And that elevated fastball becomes something they haven’t seen in a while, so it really jumps on them, and that’s a big pitch for me.
“The biggest thing for me is I was just watching him just kind of dominate the lower half of the zone. It seemed like every slider, every split-finger that he was throwing was starting at the waist and going lower. That’s something I watched more than anything, and when I threw my ‘pen yesterday, that’s what I worked on more than anything, just getting the ball down.
“I’ve been watching a lot of film and the pitches that I’ve thrown down in the zone, I’ve gotten weak contact on them, a good amount of ground balls. That’s something I’ve got to start doing more.”
Gausman will get another chance on Sunday against the Tigers. He’s registered an 11.00 ERA and 2.00 WHIP over two starts, with 11 runs and 15 hits over nine innings. He’s surrendered four home runs, including three in four innings in his last start against the Nationals.
Let Garcia set the example.
“When he first came in the league, he was throwing 95-96. He had an electric arm,” Gausman said. “Now, I think he’s kind of crafted the type of pitcher that he is now. He really mixes in his sinker and his slider, his split-finger and his changeup. That was something last night that was fun to watch, a guy like that just kind of pitching.”
Showalter certainly encourages his young hurlers to study, but it doesn’t guarantee future success.
“I’ve had, I’m not going to mention names, guys who didn’t really end up impacting us on a consistent basis that everybody thought might from getting talked to between starts and watching guys pitch,” Showalter said. “He’s not going to break out a forkball after watching (Garcia). He’s going to be who he is.
“I expect Gaus to pitch well. Of course, I always do. You keep drawing in all these things. You also have to be able to go, ‘OK, I heard that, but that doesn’t work for me. And this I’ll take in.’ The bottom line is, sooner or later they’re going to quit playing that song (anthem) and you’re going to have to pitch. All that other stuff, you take it in.
“Everybody’s trying to help. He’s done some good things, too. I know the statistical evaluation might not be what you want to see or what he’s going to do, but there have been some things you see. A couple things that... We’ll see. It’s going to be a challenge. One of the best offensive teams in baseball.”
If Gausman is nervous, he’s buried it the same way Garcia buried the Nationals.
“It should be fun,” he said. “More than anything, I want to get back to what I’ve been doing my entire career, which is living in the bottom half of the zone, getting more angle on my fastball. And we’ve been working on some mechanical things and I feel good about them. Worked on them again today. Just go into Sunday with a plan.”
Gausman will be making his first home start, just to add another layer to his afternoon.
“It should be fun,” he said, keeping with the theme. “Sunday day game. It’s going to be hot and humid, something I was used to at LSU. So, it should be fun.”