Gausman drops debut, but Braves see potential
Right-hander allows 3 runs in 5-plus frames; offense blanked by Wheeler
NEW YORK -- Not a week ago, Kevin Gausman stood outside the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, tears in his eyes. Having just been traded from the organization that drafted, developed and made him a Major Leaguer, Gausman fretted over an uncertain future. A new team, an unfamiliar city, a new swath of opponents all awaited him.
Flash forward to Saturday, when Gausman's first taste of that future lay hours away. So nervous was Gausman before his first start in a Braves uniform -- "more nervous than I was for my [MLB] debut," he said after Atlanta's 3-0 loss to the Mets -- the righty napped for an hour and a half in his Manhattan hotel room in an attempt to tamp down his emotions. "That is not normal for me," he said. "It was kind of a weird day. … But I tried to do something to calm myself down and remember it was just another game."
The jitters did not abate, Gausman said, until a harmless flyout retired Mets leadoff hitter Brandon Nimmo in the bottom of the first. Thus began a solid if unspectacular initial night in Braves colors, when Gausman allowed three runs in five-plus innings opposite winning pitcher Zack Wheeler. But to hear the Braves talk about it, the performance offered just a glimpse of what they believe their new righty can provide, should he put some planned adjustments into practice.
"I just think overall, our system is going to be good for him," manager Brian Snitker said. "I don't think we're going to reinvent him, because he's got too good of stuff. I just think what we have here is going to help him."
It is through an analytical lens that the Braves believe they can coerce more out of Gausman's high-octane arsenal, the skill set that made him the No. 4 overall pick back in 2012. Specifically, Atlanta sees disconnects in Gausman's near-triple-digit fastball, which he throws abundantly, and the results it garners. Entering Saturday, Gausman threw his four-seamer 59 percent of the time, eighth-highest in baseball. Opponents were hitting .335 off it -- the fifth-highest mark in the sport.
The suggested adjustment will center on when and how he throws it going forward. Gausman's first pitches will be a focus -- the righty entered play with opponents hitting .373/.367/.712 against him on 0-0 counts.
"They have a couple things of that nature in the works," catcher Tyler Flowers said. "He has one of those sneaky fastballs. Even though it's high velocity, it seemingly plays a little higher than that. The ability to pitch up in the zone will be big for him."
All of which is to say the Braves believe they have a pitcher who could eventually evolve into a better version of the one they acquired. With Gausman under team control through 2021, they hope he provides rotation depth not just to this stretch run, but for several more to come.
"If we can do a little better job getting ahead of guys, I think the sky is the limit for this guy," Flowers said.
Flowers compared Gausman to Wheeler, who continued his ascendant summer with seven stellar innings Saturday. The Braves managed just three hits against Wheeler, who punched out nine against one walk. That gave Gausman limited rope to work with, and his grip on the evening loosened during a laborious sixth, when he allowed three straight singles to load the bases with no outs.
After Shane Carle allowed two inherited runners to score, the Braves squandered their best scoring chance in the eighth, when Mets reliever Bobby Wahl struck out Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies grounded out, both with two runners on. In all, the loss snapped the Braves' season-high five-game win streak and pushed them 1 1/2 games behind Philadelphia in the National League East.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
It was on a routine ground ball that the game's decisive run scored in the second, when third baseman Johan Camargo hesitated to throw Amed Rosario out at first. Before firing across the diamond, Camargo looked at Todd Frazier, running from third, in an attempt to force him back to the base. But Frazier never stopped, instead inching further down the baseline. After Camargo finally threw, Frazier snuck home safely.
"We've stolen that run, too," Snitker said. "On a play like that, it's probably better to get rid of the ball as quick as you can. The longer you keep that ball in your hand, the more he's going to be able to gauge and pace you out."
It should come as no surprise that Freddie Freeman collected two of the Braves' three hits off Wheeler. Atlanta's top hitter also entered play with terrific numbers against the Mets' right-hander, who he's hit as well as any pitcher in his career. He ended the night 10-for-19 (.526) with 10 walks and two home runs in 30 plate appearances lifetime off Wheeler. Freeman owns a better on-base percentage (.690) against Wheeler than against any other pitcher (min. 15 plate appearances).
HE SAID IT
"[Gausman] doesn't have to go above the zone to get guys out. He can pitch to the top of the zone. He has enough sneak on it, if you will. Zack Wheeler is similar. It's a sneaky 98. As he elevates within in the zone, it plays up even more for him. That opens up his other weapons and makes him even more effective." -- Flowers
Julio Teheran (8-7, 4.46 ERA) gets the ball for Atlanta in Sunday's 1:10 p.m. ET series finale looking to improve on his excellent career numbers in Queens. Teheran is 6-2 with a 2.14 ERA in 11 starts lifetime at Citi Field, and he owns a 2.33 ERA in 23 career games (22 starts) against the Mets overall. He'll line up against right-hander Corey Oswalt (1-2, 5.27), a 24-year-old right-hander making his sixth MLB start.