'It's frustrating': Gausman's struggles continue in 1st home start

April 13th, 2024

TORONTO -- Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

's velocity was back Friday, allowing you one inning to exhale after some worry crept in a week ago. Those balls were ripping back past Gausman even harder, though, as the Rockies settled in and hammered away.

Gausman allowed six runs on 10 hits over just 3 2/3 innings in the 12-4 loss, ballooning his ERA to 11.57 over his first three starts. This isn't the Gausman you know and love. This isn’t ol’ reliable, the third-place Cy Young Award finisher from a year ago who can stare down any hitter in the big leagues, tell them he’s throwing a splitter and still get it past them.

Friday was something else entirely. It was the Rockies, not Gausman, controlling the at-bats.

“Nothing good happened today,” Gausman said. “Just a lot of pitches, a lot of hits, a lot of doubles and a lot of runs. Not many positives.”

Gausman felt he got away from his fastball this time, which you’ll often hear pitchers say, but the specifics matter here. Many of the Rockies’ early hits were off Gausman’s fastball, but when he went away from that pitch, his slider and splitter were giving hitters too much “medium speed” to look at, as Gausman put it. With his trademark split sitting 86 mph and his slider sitting at 83 mph, hitters could downshift mentally and sit on one of those two pitches.

Gausman isn’t immune to duds, either. Few pitchers are. Last year in mid-April, the Astros hung eight runs (seven earned) on Gausman and three starts later, he gave up another eight to the Red Sox. The two starts in between, though, contained 14 scoreless innings with 24 strikeouts, dominance from Gausman in every measurable way.

Spring Training has to be a factor here. Gausman missed time with right shoulder fatigue, and by the time he built back up, he was ready just in time to make an abbreviated first start in Tampa. That’s why he’s slotted in as the No. 4, not the Opening Day starter he was initially lined up to be. This was supposed to be his first outing with no restrictions whatsoever, but it just isn’t the same as pitching after a full healthy spring.

“I wish I was eight starts in right now, but I’m at three or four,” Gausman said. “That’s unfortunate. It’s frustrating. I also have to give myself a little bit of grace when it comes to that, but it is frustrating. All I want to do is go out there, pitch the way I know how and dominate. I, obviously, wanted to pitch well in my first start at home this year, too. It didn’t happen. It wasn’t good. On to the next one.”

The 2023 rotation was brilliant. Gausman, Chris Bassitt, José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi were the four cornerstones, as reliable and healthy as any quartet in baseball. Even when Alek Manoah faltered as the No. 5, the Blue Jays patched it together with some strong efforts from their bullpen and, eventually, the timely return of Hyun Jin Ryu. It could be years until you see such a worry-free rotation in Toronto again.

This season, reality has returned.

The Blue Jays’ rotation stumbled out of the gates -- which left Bassitt “disappointed” -- but even after a recent string of excellent outings from Berríos, Bassitt and Kikuchi, they’re waiting on their ace. This group is so close, both as people and as pitchers, and they know it’s just a matter of time.

“I don't have any problem thinking Kevin Gausman is going to be really good this year,” Bassitt said.

Soon, the Blue Jays need to see the dominant Gausman. That’s who he is. These first two seasons with the Blue Jays have been elite and none of that came accidentally.

“Every time he goes out there, we expect him to be good,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said. “We expect him to do his thing. Tonight, you have to give credit to them. They had a good plan. They hit the ball hard and found some holes. When you’re playing in the regular season, it’s execute or get beat. Tonight was just that.”

Beyond the velocities, the pitch mixes and the fact the Blue Jays just gave up 20 hits to the 4-10 Rockies, all of this just felt so unusual to watch. Gausman is typically the story of the night for other reasons, but this year, he’s still settling in.