Gasser twirls scoreless gem in MLB debut after grounding himself

May 11th, 2024

MILWAUKEE -- It was two and a half hours before the first pitch he’d always dreamt about when Robert Gasser got grounded.

Wearing a Brewers-issue navy blue hoodie and matching shorts while the sun shone down on batting practice at American Family Field, Gasser, a left-hander who is MLB Pipeline’s No. 5 Brewers prospect, slipped off his sandals. He stood barefoot in the well-manicured grass while working a baseball in his left hand. Then he moved to the warning track to feel the dirt between his toes.

Robert Gasser grounds himself before his MLB debut at American Family FieldAdam McCalvy

Some ballplayers call it “grounding.” Others prefer “earthing.” Whatever you call it, Gasser used to do it routinely at Triple-A Nashville before recently falling out of practice. The way the 24-year-old pitched six scoreless innings for an unforgettable Major League debut in Friday’s 11-2 Brewers win over the Cardinals, you can bet he will back out there barefoot next time.

“It’s some hippie [stuff],” said Christian Yelich, himself an occasional practitioner. “It looks like it worked.”

“So fun. So cool,” said Sal Frelick, who had his own magical Major League debut last year in this building. “With debuts, everyone on the field has chills for him when that happens.”

Gasser started his big league career with an eight-pitch first inning and never looked back, holding the Cardinals scoreless on two singles. He hit a batter but didn’t walk any and struck out four, including Cardinals left fielder Lars Nootbaar for career whiff No. 1 in the first inning, No. 3 in the fourth and No. 4 to finish Gasser’s outing, with the Brewers holding a comfortable 7-0 lead.

And Gasser did it all on a tidy 79 pitches, 55 strikes.

“Especially ending on a strikeout, it was everything I could have dreamed of,” Gasser said. “Probably the biggest game of my life so far. It was awesome.”

He is the fifth pitcher in Brewers history to complete at least six innings in his Major League debut without yielding a run -- the first since Brandon Woodruff in 2017. Only 10 other pitchers can boast of such a debut since the start of 2020 in the Majors, including the Cubs’ Shota Imanaga earlier this year.

Brewers hitters rose to the occasion, beginning with Rhys Hoskins’ single in the fourth inning that scored one run, and another came in right after on an error. The offense also gave the rookie some breathing room during a five-run fifth. The latter rally was highlighted by Yelich’s run-scoring squeeze bunt, which rolled slowly up the third-base line before hitting the bag.

For the Brewers, it was an organizational win, considering that Gasser was one of the prospects acquired in the 2022 Trade Deadline deal that sent Josh Hader to the Padres. The other, outfielder Esteury Ruiz, was flipped to the A’s that winter in the trade that landed catcher William Contreras, who reached safely three more times on Friday and is slashing .342/.422/.523 this season.

“I didn’t shake off once today,” Gasser said. “I had full conviction in what he was calling.”

The game was the easy part after waiting all day to pitch in front of family and friends including his parents. Dad Jim was the Brewers’ 27th round Draft pick in 1984 but didn’t sign, then saw his own pitching career derailed by an injury before he could throw an inning of pro ball.

The son, too, dealt with disappointment. Robert finished 2022 at Triple-A Nashville after the trade, then spent all of ‘23 there going 9-1 with a 3.79 ERA without getting called up. This year, he might have been a part of the Brewers’ season-opening rotation if not for the elbow issue which sent him to the injured list.

“I think ‘Gas’ came in with a little chip on his shoulder, like, ‘I should have been here last year in my mind,’” Brewers manager Pat Murphy said. “Maybe that’s something that we can think about sometimes. … It’s great to see them get here, they paid their dues and they have a little edge to them.”

Said Gasser: “I wouldn’t necessarily say I was upset or anything. There’s no time like the present to get up here.”

It helped to be “grounded.”

Gasser picked up the practice from a pitching coach in San Diego’s Minor League system and was reminded of it Friday by clubhouse neighbor J.B. Bukauskas, who suggested that Gasser keep his emotions in check by doing something to trick his mind into feeling comfortable on a field he’d never pitched.

“Something to make you feel like it’s something you always do,” Gasser said. “It was a good idea.”

He didn’t intend to wait until his next start to do it again.

“I’ll probably be out there tomorrow,” Gasser said.