When Kevin Gausman joined the Braves from the Orioles in July, he was a reclamation project of sorts. He went on to provide 10 starts down the stretch, earning a 2.87 ERA for the National League East champs.
In 2019, he’s regressed to his pre-Braves form. Gausman was tagged for six runs on 12 hits across five innings in the Braves’ 7-4 loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday night.
Gausman’s dismantling came one turn after the worst start of his career, when the right-hander allowed eight runs on eight hits in a loss to Washington. His ERA has leaped to 6.15 in 60 innings.
“I’m just not making pitches where I need to,” Gausman said. “I feel like I’m right where I need to be, but the results aren’t saying I am. Everyone is throwing the ball really well, and I’d like to be able to contribute. These last two I really haven’t.
The Braves gave Gausman a one-run lead courtesy of Josh Donaldson’s double and Austin Riley’s run-scoring hit in the second. The advantage didn’t even last an inning.
Pittsburgh scored five runs in their half of the inning. Elias Diaz’s two-run homer gave the Pirates the lead. With two outs, Pittsburgh scored three more times thanks to four consecutive singles (the first by pitcher Joe Musgrove) before Josh Bell’s double that produced the fifth run.
“They were seeing him well,” manager Brian Snitker said of Gausman. “The fastball was flat and up. The biggest pitch was the one to the pitcher. We get the pitcher out in that inning, who knows what happens.”
Gausman allowed back-to-back doubles in the third that made the score 6-1. In the fifth, Colin Moran put a teed-up fastball down the middle into the seats. Gausman relied heavily on his fastball and splitter, while his slider has been more a rarity throughout the year (Diaz’s homer did come off the pitch).
“I’ve had plenty of really good starts at this level just throwing two pitches,” Gausman said. “Got some big outs with (the slider) in some big situations. It’s a pitch I’ve worked on a lot, and I’m trying to find that confidence and comfort with it. When you get in situations like I have been, it’s tough to throw that pitch.”
The Braves’ rotation once appeared to be a possible strength, but it’s since faded into arguably their biggest question mark. Mike Soroka has continued to pitch like an All-Star, but beyond him lies relative uncertainty.
Max Fried was outstanding in his first 10 starts; they’ll hope his latest two are more a blip on the radar than a sign of what’s to come. Julio Teheran has mostly pitched well, but he rarely breaks the five-innings mark. Mike Foltynewicz has been up and down since returning from a stint on the injured list that wiped out his spring training.
Then there’s Gausman, who the team hoped would be a solid innings-eater. Rather than supply that reliability, Gausman instead might be the next arm replaced in the rotation if his unpredictability persists.
“He’s going through a funk or something and we have to get him right,” Snitker said. “We need him. We have to get him right.”
The Braves will go for the series win Thursday afternoon. Foltynewicz will go against Chris Archer, who’s underwhelmed thus far with a 5.66 ERA and 47:26 strikeout-to-walk ratio in nine starts.
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Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution