ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JULY 21: Kevin Gausman #45 of the Atlanta Braves pitches in the first inning against the Washington Nationals at SunTrust Park on July 21, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
Photo: Logan Riely/Getty Images
Photo: Logan Riely/Getty Images

Gausman stellar in return, which could prove huge for Braves

Braves manager Brian Snitker felt adding a revived Kevin Gausman would be the equivalent of trading for another starting pitcher. Maybe Gausman has a chance to be a crucial deadline addition for the second year in a row.

In his first outing since June 10 due to a foot injury, Gausman logged seven innings allowing one run in a 7-1 win over the Nationals Sunday night. The Braves salvaged a split with the Nationals this weekend, keeping an advantage of 6-1/2 games in the National League East.

Gausman looked like the pitcher the Braves acquired last July, when he produced a sub-3.00 ERA in 10 starts down the stretch. He was confident, consistently pinpointed his fastball, generated strikeouts (eight) and didn’t issue a walk.

“The biggest thing was my fastball command,” Gausman said. “(Catcher Brian McCann) had a great plan back there. When I’m able to hit my spots behind in the count, it makes things a lot easier. We did a good job mixing up and down against those guys. They’ve had my number in the past, so it was good to go out there and give the team that tonight.”

It can’t be undersold how significant a development it’d be if Gausman became a serviceable starter again. The Braves need innings consumption the next two months, with Mike Soroka and Max Fried going through their first full seasons as starters and Julio Teheran an enigma. 

It was one start for Gausman, and one that disregarded his supposed revamped arsenal. Rather than implement the reinvented curveball, Gausman went back to the four-seam fastball. 

Of his 83 pitches, Gausman threw his four-seamer 60 times, averaging 94 mph, and his splitter and cutter the other 23 times. It was a matter of sticking with what worked. Gausman’s 76 percent strike rate was the third best of his career when reaching seven innings.

“I threw a good amount of cutters tonight, and it was a pitch that stayed in on those lefties,” he said. “I got a good amount of strikeouts on it. I wish I’d thrown more (any) curveballs, but it’s probably a good thing I didn’t.

“When I’m going good, I’m able to move my fastball in and out. That’s one thing, if you watch the game, that’s what I did a lot. Fastballs away, in, up, down. When I can do that effectively, I make it tough on the hitters.”

He allowed five hits, all singles. He departed with runners at the corners and none down in the eighth. Anthony Swarzak held the Nationals to a run.

Gausman missed 34 games with right foot plantar faciitis. He made three rehab starts, including an impressive final outing in which he struck out 10 across seven frames. Time on the injured list gave Gausman a mental break, allowing him to evaluate his season and try getting back to what made him successful a season ago.

Already, Gausman seemed like a new man. Regarded as an underachiever with electric stuff for much of his career, a light came on when Gausman joined the Braves. Rediscovering that form would drastically change the team’s outlook.

“That was the Gausman I remember facing in the AL East for so many years,” said Josh Donaldson, who homered and drove in a pair. “Pounded the heater. Split looked really nice tonight. … We need everybody. It’s going to 1-through-25, maybe 1-through-35 depending on the situation that continues to go on. But everybody is key to our success. There’s not one person who’s more (vital) than anybody else. Everybody has their role and we need him to be able to do that.”

A split was an acceptable result for the Braves. They shaved four games off the schedule without losing ground. They prevented a hot-hitting Nationals team from taking three of four, which could’ve added a mental edge on top of the shrunken divisional deficit.

Sunday’s win turned the Braves’ potential lead of 4-1/2 games into 6-1/2. That doesn’t seem like much difference over the course of the season, but holding serve should be chalked up as a win. These teams will see each other again on the Braves’ next road trip.

“It’s going to be tough games,” Snitker said. “Some good teams going at it. It was a good split. Obviously you want to win the series, but that was a big split right there. It’ll be three tough games next week.”

Before embarking on the road again, the Braves will play the Royals twice between a pair of off-days Monday and Thursday. Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran will start the interleague matchups against Kansas City, which owns the third-worst record in the American League.

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