PHOENIX -- The first-place Giants are set to receive a significant boost with the return of veteran infielders Tommy La Stella and Brandon Belt this week, but they could get another boon with a return to dominance for ace Kevin Gausman, who got back on track in Wednesday night’s 7-1 win over the D-backs at Chase Field.
Gausman snapped a frustrating, second-half skid by working six innings of one-run ball to earn his first win since July 11 and help the Giants pick up their 11th victory in 13 games against the D-backs this year. Gausman scattered five hits, struck out eight and walked none, lowering his ERA to 2.31 on the season.
“He looked more comfortable mechanically,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He was a little bit taller. He was down and through the baseball, and the fastball had more carry than it has in some of his past outings.”
Donovan Solano continued his hot stretch in the desert, drilling a solo shot in the fourth and a two-run, opposite-field single in the sixth to account for the Giants’ first three runs of the night. Alex Dickerson added a three-run blast that keyed a four-run seventh, and La Stella went 2-for-2 with two walks in his first game since returning from the 60-day injured list.
More help could arrive on Thursday, when Belt is likely to be activated after missing over a month with a right knee injury. Gausman is expecting to go on paternity leave, as he and his wife, Taylor, are due to welcome their second daughter, Sutton, on Friday, so that should open up a roster spot for Belt.
With the win, the Giants improved to 68-40 and stayed 3 1/2 games ahead of the Dodgers in the National League West.
Gausman has emerged as the ace of the Giants’ pitching staff, but he didn’t look like himself coming out of the All-Star break and entered Wednesday with an 8.49 ERA over his previous three starts. He lost his feel for his devastating splitter, which has been one of the most valuable pitches in baseball this year, battled command issues and couldn’t complete five innings in any of his outings during that rough stretch.
Still, Gausman worked on a mechanical adjustment during his bullpen session at Chase Field on Monday, which helped get him back in sync against the D-backs. The 30-year-old right-hander focused on aligning his shoulders in the right position to avoid flying toward first base and help regain the usual life on his ball. He leaned primarily on his four-seam fastball, throwing it up the zone to induce 12 of his 18 whiffs.
“Me and Buster [Posey] talked before the game, and it was like, ‘Hey, let’s get back to what we did the whole season,'” Gausman said. “Fastballs up. That was a focus going into the game.”
Gausman opened his outing with five scoreless innings, holding the D-backs to only two hits, but he had to grind through the sixth after giving up back-to-back singles to David Peralta and Kole Calhoun. Another single by Asdrúbal Cabrera cut the Giants’ lead to 3-1, but Gausman escaped further damage by inducing a lineout from Drew Ellis and striking out Daulton Varsho to end the inning.
It was an encouraging performance, but Kapler said he thinks Gausman will be able to hit another gear once he manages to get his splitter back. Gausman threw his splitter 37.6% of the time in the first half, generating a 50.1% whiff rate and a .109 opponents’ batting average on the pitch, but he’s decreased his reliance on the weapon since he’s struggled to locate it in his recent outings. Twenty-three of Gausman’s 91 pitches were splitters (25%), resulting in six whiffs on Wednesday.
“I think the next step to kind of take him to the next level is him getting comfortable with his split again,” Kapler said. “We’ll get there. But this was a really positive step in the right direction. He was efficient, he attacked the strike zone, threw a ton of strikes, and got us deep into the game. That’s all we can ask for.”
The Giants didn’t acquire extra rotation help at the Trade Deadline last week, so they’ll be counting on Gausman to maintain his elite form down the stretch, especially now that his rotation mate, Anthony DeSclafani, is on the injured list with right shoulder fatigue.
“I think one of the strongest points of our team this year has been our rotation,” Gausman said. “I think everybody is really throwing the ball exceptionally well. We’ve just got to keep it going, really.”