Gausman's 10-K gem sets tone for Blue Jays

Righty's scoreless outing vs. Boston gets Toronto's busy week off to strong start

June 28th, 2022

TORONTO -- Back by popular demand -- and by necessity -- is the April version of Kevin Gausman.

The splitter king couldn’t have picked a better time. With José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi both stumbling to short outings over the weekend in Milwaukee, the Blue Jays and their gassed bullpen needed this. The stakes were higher than a typical June 27 game, too.

Gausman’s seven-inning scoreless gem in Monday night's 7-2 win over Boston at Rogers Centre led off a stretch of eight games in seven days for Toronto, all against American League East rivals. After this three-game set against the Red Sox, the Rays come to town for a five-game series that features a doubleheader in the middle.

This would test even the freshest bullpen, but the Blue Jays' relief corps has been left gasping for air too often recently because of inconsistent starting pitching.

“We needed that,” Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo said of Gausman's outing. “Our bullpen has thrown a lot, and even more lately. We needed a start like that, and it was great to see him. That’s the Gausman that we saw at the beginning. He has been good, but today, he was back to the Gausman that we saw the first couple of months.”

It took about 30 seconds to see that Gausman had it. The right-hander set up the first batter he faced, Rob Refsnyder, with two heavy fastballs, then went at him with that famous splitter. The first was fouled off. On the second, Refsnyder swung over the top of it. It was the type of swing where you could see the hitter saying, “Oh!” midway, not even following all the way through after he whiffed.

With 10 strikeouts and only four hits allowed, this was April Gausman. That month, Gausman got off to an historic start, not issuing a walk until the calendar turned to May. Through his first six starts -- which included his first walk on May 7 -- Gausman posted a 2.13 ERA with 46 strikeouts and no home runs allowed over 38 innings.

That’s hardly sustainable, but with flashes of it between consistent outings, Gausman can become a savior of sorts. That was supposed to be Berríos, frankly, who’s still searching for his way back to being one of MLB’s most consistent pitchers. But Gausman and Alek Manoah are tasked with taking the ball deep into games for now.

When it’s the Red Sox, who have surged to 42-32 and look like a sure bet to race the Blue Jays neck and neck to the finish, it’s even more important.

“It seems like every time I pitch, I face a really good team,” Gausman said. “We’re in the American League, and we’re in the American League East, specifically. You have to bring that mentality every time. I think they’re probably the hottest team in baseball behind the Yankees right now. I knew that going in, and I needed to be a little more fine.”

The Blue Jays teed off in support of Gausman. George Springer hit a solo homer in the third, his 14th long ball of the season. Then later in the inning, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. belted a two-run home run, his 18th of the year. Both were rockets that scorched just over the wall. In the fifth, Matt Chapman put the game to bed with a two-run homer of his own, a skyscraper to left field.

If Toronto has played better games in 2022, you could count them on one hand.

“We came off a tough road trip and are running into a hot Boston team,” Chapman said. “To be able to come out here in Game 1 and put some runs up, pitch well and play good defense, that sets the tone for the whole homestand. We still have a lot of work to do with two more with them and Tampa coming in. It’s a tough stretch, but we’re excited about how we started off.”

Players talk so often about hitting being contagious, but some pitchers believe the same applies to them. The Blue Jays have to hope there’s something to that.

Ross Stripling will follow Gausman on Tuesday, with Manoah closing out the series vs. the Red Sox, and both have been excellent of late. Manoah has been one of the best pitchers in baseball this season, rarely having a misstep.

This is about following Gausman, though, after a sensational outing that got him back to who he can be at his best. The entire roster followed suit Monday, and while different pitchers have taken turns at the wheel this season, Gausman is now back in the driver’s seat.