SAN FRANCISCO -- Kevin Gausman was one of the most dominant pitchers in the Majors in the first half, but he hasn’t looked like the same guy since returning from the All-Star break.
Gausman was charged with a season-high six runs on eight hits over 4 1/3 innings as the Giants dropped their second straight game to the last-place Pirates, 10-2, at Oracle Park on Saturday. The defeat, coupled with the Dodgers’ 1-0 win over the Rockies, cut the Giants’ lead in the National League West to two games.
LaMonte Wade Jr. blasted his 10th home run of the year, but the Giants’ lineup -- seemingly feeling the absence of injured veterans Brandon Crawford, Evan Longoria, Brandon Belt and Tommy La Stella -- was held to only four hits by Pirates right-hander Wil Crowe, who struck out nine over 5 1/3 innings.
“I don’t think we have executed any part of our game over the last two days, so I think the move is to demonstrate a bit of urgency, but also without any panic,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We don’t have any panic in that room. It’s two games that were not good baseball games from any angle.”
Outfielder Mike Tauchman added a bit of levity to the blowout loss by making his first career pitching appearance in the ninth, though he allowed one run after giving up three consecutive hits to start the inning. San Francisco will turn to left-hander Alex Wood on Sunday as it tries to avoid being swept at home for only the second time this season.
“Today didn’t go our way, but I think our team has shown an incredible amount of resilience this year,” Tauchman said. “We have a quick turnaround here, so we’ll get back out there and try to get one on Sunday.”
Gausman earned his first career All-Star nod after emerging as the Giants’ unquestioned ace over the first three months of the season, but he’s watched his ERA climb from 1.73 to 2.21 following back-to-back subpar outings against the Dodgers and the Pirates.
Gausman was coming off his shortest start of the year after giving up two runs over three innings at Dodger Stadium on Monday, but it was easy to view that game as an aberration. The 30-year-old right-hander had originally been scheduled to pitch the first game of the second half, but the Giants pushed his start back after his wife, Taylor, was briefly hospitalized with complications from her pregnancy.
“Obviously, it’s tough,” Gausman said. “I’ve got some other things going on, but when I’m here, I’m focused on baseball and helping this team win games.”
“I think there were a number of things at play in his start against the Dodgers,” manager Gabe Kapler said before the game. “I think the first one was some of the travel and the family concerns and being there for his family during that time. I also think the Dodgers are just a tough lineup to get through. … We always view maybe not the best start for Gaus as more of a blip on the radar rather than something that’s blinking.”
Gausman rejoined the Giants at the beginning of the week, but he’s been missing the crisp command and dominant splitter that keyed his rise this year. Saturday proved to be another grind for Gausman, who gave up a leadoff single and then issued back-to-back walks to load the bases with no outs for the Pirates in the first inning.
Pittsburgh took a 1-0 lead on a sacrifice fly by Gregory Polanco, but Gausman worked around an error from third baseman Jason Vosler to limit the damage to one run in the stressful 26-pitch inning.
Gausman was forced to work around traffic for his entire night, as the Pirates put at least one runner on base in each of the first five innings. Pittsburgh struck for two more runs in the third before chasing Gausman with a three-spot in the fifth.
Polanco, who went 2-for-3 with three RBIs vs. Gausman to boost his career batting average against the righty to .421, extended the Pirates’ lead to 4-1 by hammering a 1-0 fastball out to the deepest part of the ballpark with one out in the fifth. Gausman then walked John Nogowski and surrendered a double to Ben Gamel before giving way to John Brebbia, who allowed both inherited runners to score on Kevin Newman’s two-run single to put the Giants in a 6-1 hole.
The clunker snapped Gausman’s streak of 16 consecutive starts in which he’d allowed three or fewer runs, tied for the second-longest such streak in franchise history. Only Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson, who accomplished the feat in 18 consecutive starts in 1908, has had a longer run.
Gausman walked four and struck out a season-low two, as he induced only five whiffs, none of which came on his trademark splitter. Gausman entered Saturday with a 49.6% whiff rate on his splitter, but he kept missing low, making it easy for the Pirates to lay off the offering. Only 10 of Gausman’s 89 pitches were splitters, forcing him to rely primarily on his four-seam fastball and his changeup.
He said he plans to work on a mechanical adjustment in between starts to help him stay behind the ball and get his splitter back on track.
“Really, my last two games, it’s been really frustrating,” Gausman said. “I just haven’t had a feel for it. A lot of the pitches that I have thrown with it have kind of been uncompetitive balls coming out of my hand. It’s definitely been a challenge. It’s a big pitch for me, so I’ve just got to keep throwing it and find that feel for it.”