Gaus­man gets a shot to end on a high note

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS -

is to have the op­por­tu­nity to head into the off­sea­son on a pos­i­tive note.

“We had the op­por­tu­nity for him to not pitch again, but [pitch­ing coach] Roger [McDow­ell] and I [wanted him to],” Ori­oles man­ager Buck Showal­ter said. “He might not make it out of the second in­ning on Sun­day, but I like the fact that he wants it. He says this is the best he’s felt all year, the last month or so, which is good, too.

“He’s a driven guy. Gaus doesn’t do this just to be com­pet­i­tive and have some good ones and just [say] that’s the way base­ball is. Ev­ery­thing is a lit­tle learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. It shows you a lit­tle something.”

One start, how­ever, won’t take away from how vex­ing this sea­son has been for Gaus­man.

The Ori­oles’ 2012 first-round draft pick was com­ing off a strong second half last sea­son, post­ing a 3.10 ERA in 15 starts af­ter the All-Star break, and earned the Open­ing Day start this year af­ter righthander Chris Till­man landed on the dis­abled list to open the sea­son.

But Gaus­man strug­gled out of the gate, un­able to com­plete six in­nings in four of his first five starts, post­ing a 7.50 ERA dur­ing that stretch. It didn’t get bet­ter for Gaus­man through­out the first half. Fif­teen starts into the sea­son, he still had a 6.60 ERA, and at that point no other qual­i­fied ma­jor league starter had al­lowed more base run­ners than Gaus­man. He led the ma­jors with a 1.92 WHIP.

Gaus­man was able to re­bound in the second half of the sea­son. Af­ter his first start out of the break — when he al­lowed eight runs in three in­nings against the Chicago Cubs — Gaus­man set­tled down for a 2.82 ERA over his 13 starts since.

Still, he spent his en­tire second half climb­ing back to re­spectabil­ity.

“I think ev­ery­body at this level is go­ing to have their ups and downs, and I look back on 2015 and I thought I had a ter­ri­ble year in 2015 — made 20 starts and had a [4.25 ERA],” Gaus­man said. “I remember af­ter that sea­son think­ing, ‘Man, this is the first time I’ve had a 4.00 ERA in my life.’ That was tough to deal with, and then I pitched well last year and kind of felt like I was on the right track. So yeah, it sucks, but there’s al­ways things you can learn from it.

“At the break, I kind of had to tell my­self, ev­ery­thing I did to get to this point, it’s al­ready happened. I have a de­ci­sion to make to ei­ther keep fight­ing or throw in the towel and give up on this sea­son. That’s one thing that I’m proud about, that I’ve been healthy enough to start all [33] games that I have.”

Even with his strong second half, Gaus­man’s sea­son to­tals in­clude the high­est hits per nine in­nings (10.1) and walks per nine in­nings (3.6) of his career. Over his first four sea­sons as a big league starter, Gaus­man had a 1.283 WHIP, but this sea­son his WHIP is 1.519.

The run­ners he al­lowed were a recipe for dis­as­ter, and Gaus­man has ex­pressed frus­tra­tion with his in­abil­ity to put hit­ters away with two strikes, a re­sult of some mis­placed pitches at ill-timed mo­ments.

When Gaus­man had suc­cess last sea­son, he was able to lo­cate his fast­ball down and away as both a put-away pitch and one be­hind in the count. He couldn’t lean on that pitch this sea­son, es­pe­cially in the first half, and that led to hit­ters’ counts and walks.

“I think it all starts with com­mand of my fast­ball,” Gaus­man said. “It’s no won­der that the games where I walked just one guy or less, those are the games that I usu­ally pitch well in. So for me, looking at the second half of last year, that’s one thing I did really well — pound the strike zone and go­ing af­ter hit­ters. My first half this year, I didn’t do that well at all. Started doing a bet­ter job of it in the second half, but over­all I think that was the big­gest thing that was miss­ing.”

Gaus­man points to his num­ber of short out­ings as one ma­jor thing he needs to cor­rect next sea­son. He failed to fin­ish five in­nings in 10 of his 33 starts, one of which he was ejected in the second in­ning.

“If I can even have half of those starts that aren’t like that and get to six in­nings at least, I’m looking at getting close to 200 in­nings,” Gaus­man said. “That’s kind of the dif­fer­ence there.”

So no mat­ter the re­sult Sun­day, Gaus­man will look at this year as dis­sat­is­fy­ing.

“I just didn’t step up,” Gaus­man said. “I got off to a bad start in April. When you give up [25] earned runs in April, it’s kind of tough to fight back and turn your sea­son around. But yeah, that was the big­gest thing. My first two months were really bad.

“But that’s the most frus­trat­ing part, know­ing that in the second half, I pitched as good as I’m ca­pa­ble of pitch­ing. I be­lieve I can pitch even bet­ter than that, but it’s frus­trat­ing when you get off to a bad start like that. Ob­vi­ously, I was on the high­est of highs [com­ing in] be­cause I had a great year last year, and I helped us get to the playoffs, and then got the Open­ing Day nod, and then I just didn’t step up.”

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