TORONTO — After two months of video-game numbers, Kevin Gausman has run into some sort of glitch.
The Blue Jays right-hander didn’t make it out of the third inning on Thursday afternoon in Toronto’s 10-2 loss to the Orioles at Rogers Center. It was the second time in three starts that Gausman pitched fewer than four frames, an unexpected development for the Blue Jays’ most reliable starter early in the season. All told, Gausman went 2 1/3 innings and surrendered seven runs (five earned) on seven hits and one walk, striking out three.
“I just didn’t really have the energy today to kind of keep going,” said Gausman. “For whatever reason, I was really tired out there.”
This wasn’t like the last time Gausman struggled, when the Twins came into town in early June with a clear game plan of not swinging at his reliable splitter and sitting on the fastball instead.
Against the Orioles, five of the 31-year-old’s seven swings-and-misses came on the splitter. And though Gausman ran into some trouble in the first inning after allowing two singles, he closed it out by giving up just one run and followed that up with a clean second, seemingly posed for another dominant start.
But a rare struggle with command derailed those early exploits.
“I just didn’t have anything today,” said Gausman. “Usually, it’s something mechanical, something small that, in the game, I can make adjustments and figure it out. For whatever reason, in that third, I just couldn’t make the adjustment.”
The Orioles made sure to capitalize on Gausman’s struggles.
Ryan Mountcastle, who is swiftly acquiring a reputation as a Blue Jays slayer, opened the floodgates in the third with a single that scored two Orioles runs. A double, a sac fly and two more doubles made it 7-0 Baltimore and forced Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo to pull his starter.
“He was pitching behind in the count. That’s what it is,” said Montoyo. “Remember early on in the season, when he was dealing, he was commanding all his pitches from him. … [Now] he’s been pitching behind in the count, and when you do that in the big leagues, you’re going to pay the price.”
Gausman looked unbeatable in his first 10 starts with the Blue Jays. He carried a 2.51 ERA into June and averaged 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings, compared to 0.89 walks per nine. He didn’t allow a home run until May 18 and quickly developed into the bedrock of Toronto’s rotation after signing a five-year deal in the offseason. That’s what makes games like Thursday’s, or that bad outing against Minnesota earlier in the month, all the more puzzling.
“It just sucks,” said Gausman. “It’s something that never happens to me, but when it does, you feel like crap to put yourself and your team in that situation.”
The encouraging news is that this isn’t the norm. Sandwiched between Gausman’s poor starts against the Twins and the Orioles was a solid performance in Detroit, in which he pitched six innings of two-run ball (one earned) on six hits and three walks while striking out four.
More often than not, Gausman will succeed at making adjustments on the fly. But these unexpected struggles add another layer to the handful of question marks this rotation has dealt with in the past week.
The Blue Jays lost left-hander Hyun Jin Ryu to a UCL procedure that will sideline him for the remainder of the season, while another offseason acquisition, starter Yusei Kikuchi, has yet to find consistency on the mound.
With the Yankees arriving on Friday for a crucial three-game series and yet another American League East matchup, the Blue Jays don’t have much margin for error, especially from a guy who had been as reliable as they come early on.
“It’s unfortunate to put the team in that situation,” said Gausman. “It’s embarrassing, to be honest, to go out there and do that against a team that I think we should beat. It may sound bad to say, but I think we should beat them more than we should lose to them.
“Going for a series win, to go out and do that, it’s unacceptable.”
Adding insult to injury, this was Gausman’s first time facing the Orioles, the team that drafted him and with which he played from 2013-18.
“I was really excited to face them, honestly,” he said. “Baltimore has always been a special place in my heart — I was there for a long time. I really wanted to go out there and shove it to them, to be honest. To [have a bad start] is not what I envisioned for my first start against my former team. So, that sucks.”