Gausman pitching at Cy Young level, literally

May 1st, 2022

TORONTO -- Kevin Gausman’s first impression has gone from good, to great, to historic.

The right-hander pitched brilliantly again in Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Astros at Rogers Centre, giving the Blue Jays seven innings of two-run ball with zeros in two familiar boxes: walks and home runs.

In 31 2/3 innings this season, Gausman has yet to allow a single walk or home run. This puts him in extremely rare company, joining only Cy Young as the only starters in the World Series era (since 1903) to begin a season with five consecutive outings of no walks and no home runs allowed (minimum 20 innings total).

That brings us all the way back to 1903 for Young, who pitched for the Boston Americans. Those first five starts all came against the Philadelphia Athletics and Washington Senators. It’s been a while.

“It’s his strike-throwing. You have to beat him,” said manager Charlie Montoyo, who’s already one of Gausman’s biggest fans. “He’s not going to walk you. The one thing about facing good hitters all the time, when you don’t give them extra chances with walks, you have to beat him. He’s going to go after you and throw strikes.”

The win brings Gausman’s ERA to 2.27, and as Montoyo pointed out postgame, it doesn’t even feel that high. With no big blasts or long innings to remember, opposing teams have had to scrape across the odd run here and there, but nothing has snowballed. Put that alongside Mr. Consistency in José Berríos and the win machine named Alek Manoah, and the Blue Jays have to feel very good about their big three, whether it’s May 1 or October.

Gausman’s remarkable consistency to open the 2022 season comes on the back of his splitter, which is one of the best pitches in Major League Baseball, but he’s also pounded the zone with his fastball and squeezed some more value out of his slider. The Blue Jays knew they were getting a talented pitcher when they handed Gausman a five-year, $110 million deal in free agency this past winter, but he’s exceeding every expectation five starts in, pitching like one of baseball’s very best.

Free passes have rarely been an issue for Gausman, who has a tidy career walk rate of 2.58 per nine innings, but what he’s doing now is rare. Gausman has faced 122 batters this year without issuing a single free pass -- a Blue Jays record to open a season -- and he’s doing all of this with an approach that isn’t exactly subtle.

Hitters know that Gausman will throw his fastball in the zone and his splitter low, but that information doesn’t seem to be helping them. Just like Robbie Ray in 2021, with his fastball and slider, Gausman is trusting that his best is better than the hitter’s best.

Spoiler alert: It is.

“It’s not like I’m out there trying not to walk guys,” Gausman said. “I’m just throwing competitive pitches, and for the most part, I’m getting ahead. The more that I can get ahead, I know I’m not going to throw that many balls or throw five balls in a row. If I can get ahead, I feel confident.”

This was another game where the Blue Jays needed Gausman to be nearly perfect, too. It’s already their ninth win in a one-run game this season, which is the best in MLB, and Astros starter Framber Valdez no-hit the Blue Jays into the sixth, before Bo Bichette drove a two-run shot over the wall in right field. With seven consecutive undefeated series, tying a franchise record set in their World Series season of 1992, the Blue Jays are already getting a taste of playoff baseball in April and May.

“We all knew and talked about it all spring, that it was going to be a challenge out of the gates,” Gausman said. “Sometimes your hardest month of the season is September, and sometimes it’s August. For us, it was these first 25 games. There’s a lot of good, talented teams we’re playing against. We’ve had a chance to win every single day, and we have to feel good about that.”

The accomplishment isn’t lost on the 31-year-old Gausman, who’s now in his 10th MLB season with his fifth organization. He’s a fantastic example of a pitcher whose development has continued through his late 20s and into his early 30s, with a clear payoff. Still, he’s not spending much time celebrating.

“Obviously, this is cool, but I’ve got another start in five days,” Gausman said with a smile. “It’s cool, but this game wasn’t the last game of the season, and we’re not the last ones standing yet.”

If Gausman keeps this momentum rolling, though, this might not be the last time you read his name next to Cy Young’s.