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Gausman delivers gem as Braves thump Nats

@mlbbowman
July 22, 2019

ATLANTA -- A little less than a year since being acquired from the Orioles at the Trade Deadline and six weeks after being placed on the injured list in the midst of an ugly stretch, Kevin Gausman gave the Braves reason to think he can satisfy their desire to strengthen

ATLANTA -- A little less than a year since being acquired from the Orioles at the Trade Deadline and six weeks after being placed on the injured list in the midst of an ugly stretch, Kevin Gausman gave the Braves reason to think he can satisfy their desire to strengthen their starting rotation.

“Hopefully he does what he did a year ago for us, because he provided a huge lift,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s fresh and feeling really good about things.”

A mentally refreshed Gausman had plenty of reason to smile after he produced a gem that helped the Braves split a key four-game series with a 7-1 win over the Nationals Sunday night at SunTrust Park. His impressive return enhanced his confidence.

Box score

“It’s a huge pickup,” Braves catcher Brian McCann said. “He’s been doing this a long time and been successful. You saw tonight, he was so efficient with everything he threw. So I’m happy for him and I’m happy for us.”

Having regained a 6 1/2-game lead over the second-place Nationals in the National League East, the Braves will now approach the July 31 Trade Deadline feeling better about the internal pieces that could strengthen their starting rotation.

The Braves have monitored the market for Madison Bumgarner, Mike Minor and other potential front-line starters who might be available. High asking prices and the fact so many teams are still in contention have created reason to question whether Atlanta will end up trading for a starter.

But the Braves certainly felt better about their options after seeing Gausman limit the Nationals to one run over seven innings. Dallas Keuchel and Mike Soroka remain the anchors of a rotation that will be bolstered next weekend when Max Fried (blister) returns from the injured list. There’s also the possibility Mike Foltynewicz could eventually be given a shot to return from Triple-A Gwinnett.

“With some injuries, we were trying to get some consistency back with [the rotation],” Snitker said. “I think [Gausman’s start] is a huge step in the right direction. We get Max back in there and I like our rotation. I always have. But Gaus is an established guy. It’s good to get him back in there.”

Gausman scattered three hits through the first seven innings and the Nationals did not tally their only run until after he exited upon surrendering two straight hits to begin the eighth. He certainly didn’t look like the same guy who allowed 19 runs while totaling just 8 1/3 innings over the three starts that preceded him being placed on the injured list (right plantar fasciitis) on June 11.

While on the injured list, Gausman shortened the stride of his delivery and focused on adding two pitches -- curveball and cutter -- to what has been a two-pitch repertoire this year. The mechanical adjustment helped him record a strike with 63 of his 83 pitches. But he mostly stuck with his two primary pitches -- a four-seam fastball and a splitter.

“A lot of people hit the ball really well, but he continued to go after us with a lot of heaters,” Nationals second baseman Brian Dozier said. “Usually he tries to go to the split more often, but he fed us a lot of heaters.”

Per Statcast, Gausman’s arsenal consisted solely of four-seamers (60 pitches) and the splitter (23 pitches). But the 28-year-old veteran said he threw 10 cutters (which likely registered as four-seamers). He’s quickly gained more comfort with this pitch than he did with the slider, which he ditched after last season.

“I’ve never thrown a cutter before,” Gausman said. “I’ve always tried to throw a slider hard and I’ve never been able to. So to be able to see a ball move [horizontally] even just a little bit has been a lot of fun for me. It’s something I’ve never seen before.”

Though this was just one of two starts Gausman could make before the Trade Deadline, this wasn’t the first time the Braves have seen him this good. They saw him post a 2.87 ERA in 10 starts after being acquired from Baltimore last year.

Gausman will now have a chance to help the Braves win a second straight division title. In the process, over the next week, he and some of the other starters can further influence what general manager Alex Anthopoulos does on the trade market.

“We’re going to make it tough on those guys, but it’s a good problem to have,” Gausman said.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.