Gausman loses signature splitter in shortest start yet

June 5th, 2022

TORONTO -- For two innings on Sunday afternoon, it looked like another pitcher was wearing a  jersey.

Gausman’s trademark splitter nearly disappeared in the third and fourth innings of the Blue Jays’ 8-6 loss to the Twins. Minnesota wasn’t swinging at the pitch much through the first two frames, particularly on a handful that Gausman really liked, which led him and catcher Danny Jansen to adjust the game plan. 

The veteran right-hander said only that he’d need to evaluate the video following the loss to see if there’s anything he can pick up on. Was he tipping his pitch, allowing the Twins to lay off some splitters they otherwise would have swung over the top of, or was the Twins’ broader approach simply the kryptonite to one of baseball’s best weapons for a day?

“It’s a little frustrating, obviously. I’m trying to go win a series,” Gausman said. “To go out there and do that is unacceptable, to be honest. We’ve got another one in five days, so we’ll take a look at some things and go from there.”

The shift in strategy forced Gausman to lean heavily on his four-seam fastball and slider. Both of those are strong pitches for Gausman, but everything in his arsenal plays off of that splitter. When his fastball gets a swing and miss, for example, it’s often due to the hesitation in a hitter’s mind brought on by that devastating split.

“You have to tip your cap sometimes when they just don’t swing,” Gausman said. “Some of their guys laid off some really good splitters that I was kind of flabbergasted they didn’t swing at. You have to keep competing and making pitches. We made an adjustment, and unfortunately, I threw a lot of pitches. It was a grind all day and it was obviously my worst outing of the year. I’m going to take a look at some things and see what I can find.”

Of course, Gausman's performance can't be entirely accredited to the troubles with his splitter.

In the first inning alone, the Blue Jays gave the Twins two free outs; first when Teoscar Hernández dropped a routine fly ball in right field, and then when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. lost a popup in foul territory, falling backward as the ball fell several feet to his left.

The pair went hunting for sunglasses together between innings.

“I’m not defending my players, but that’s not the first time players have dropped fly balls in baseball,” said manager Charlie Montoyo, noting that the sky had quickly gone from cloudy to sunny. “It’s happened for 100 years, but it sucks when it happens to you and it costs you runs, like it did in that first inning. That turned out to be a big part of the game.”

The errors led to Gausman throwing 31 pitches in the first inning and left him at 54 after two, which is uncharacteristic for a pitcher who didn’t issue a walk until May 7. For Gausman, this is a blip in an otherwise exceptional start to the 2022 season. The right-hander still owns a 2.78 ERA and has looked more than worthy of the five-year, $110 million deal he signed as a free agent this past offseason.

This loss was forgettable, made easier by the fact the Blue Jays recently reeled off an eight-game winning streak and had won nine of their last 10 entering Sunday. What it offers, though, is a glimpse of what pitchers have to deal with as the season stretches on, especially top-end starters, and especially come playoff time.

Besides, any conversation involving this Blue Jays team needs to have an eye towards October. That’s no longer just the goal, but the full expectation. Gausman is one of the safest bets in baseball to bounce back with a very strong outing next weekend in Detroit, so if there is a small wrinkle he discovers from Sunday’s video that needs to be ironed out, it’s best that's done now rather than in the autumn.

Those early defensive blunders looked like they would only worsen Gausman’s line in a lopsided loss, but the Blue Jays made a late push to get within two runs in the bottom of the ninth, at one point bringing the go-ahead run to the plate. That only adds to the sting of some missed opportunities after George Springer, Alejandro Kirk, Matt Chapman and Santiago Espinal all homered.

Toronto’s recent roll allows some losses like these to be lessons, though, not tragedies. This isn’t something Gausman expects to do twice, and if he finds what he’s looking for when he debriefs with pitching coach Pete Walker over some video, hitters will be back to whiffing on that splitter soon enough.