Kevin Gausman made his SunTrust Park debut with the Braves on Friday night, and his teammates made sure he enjoyed the occasion.
The Braves’ hitters staked Gausman, a starting pitcher acquired at the July 31 trade deadline, to a 3-0 lead in the first inning and a 7-0 cushion after four innings. The Braves went on to rout the Milwaukee Brewers 10-1 as Gausman worked eight efficient innings, allowing one run on six hits, striking out eight, walking none and pitching exclusively from the stretch for the first time in his career.
All in all, the night was a rousing opener of an 11-game homestand, the Braves’ longest of the season.
The win moved the Braves into a virtual tie for first place in the National League East with the Philadelphia Phillies, who lost at San Diego. The Braves now have a 63-50 record (.558 winning percentage) and the Phillies a 64-51 record (.557).
So Gausman finds himself in the thick of a pennant race after gaining a mind-boggling 41 ½ games in the standings when the Braves acquired him from the Baltimore Orioles. At the time of the trade, the Orioles were 42 games out of first place in the American League East and the Braves ½ game out of first place in the NL East.
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“Unfortunately in Baltimore, the crowds just weren’t really into the games,” Gausman said. “That’s one of the things I noticed right away (here), how involved they are.
“It’s fun. As a player to come into it, it’s exciting. I could kind of tell from the first day I got here that these guys are the real deal and want to win, not just now but also in the future.”
The Braves have been as impressed with Gausman as he has been with them.
"I was excited to get him and kind of thought what we had going on was going to be a big plus for him," manager Brian Snitker said. “He's been very impressive, I think, the first two starts."
In Gausman’s first start for the Braves on Aug. 4 against the Mets in New York, he allowed six hits and three runs over five innings in a 3-0 loss.
There was much more offensive support Friday. Johan Camargo had four hits and Ronald Acuna three. Ender Inciarte had four RBI and Nick Markakis three.
The Braves’ first-inning rally came after two out, with RBI doubles by Markakis and Camargo and an RBI single by Inciarte producing the early 3-0 lead for Gausman. In the third inning, run-scoring doubles by Camargo and Inciarte made it 5-0. The Braves scored two more runs in the fourth inning, and they answered a Milwaukee run in the top of the sixth inning with three in the bottom of the inning.
“Any time we put up that many runs early, you just try not to mess it up,” Gausman said.
Brewers starter Freddy Peralta, who entered the game with a 3.54 ERA, had an awful night, departing after the first three Braves batters reached in the fourth inning. Peralta allowed seven runs on seven hits and five walks.
Gausman got through eight innings on 94 pitches, throwing 71 strikes and 23 balls. He threw only 11 balls in the first five innings.
“Tremendous job. Excellent. Wow,” Camargo said of Gausman’s performance. “Hopefully (he’ll) have more games like that.”
Gausman said his decision to pitch the game exclusively from the stretch came as a result of a bullpen session between starts. As he made adjustments, he realized he was more comfortable with them from the stretch.
“So (pitching coach) Chuck (Hernandez) was kind of like, ‘You can pitch out of the stretch the whole game if you want to,’” Gausman said. “I just told him I was going to take it into the game and see how I liked it. I just felt like I didn’t really miss a beat. It didn’t seem weird at all.”
Asked if he will try it again, Gausman said: “Yeah, pitch eight innings, give up one run, it would be hard to not say it worked.”
Said Snitker: “I liked it. I thought he was quick and got on top of the hitters. His splitter was really good. His arm was working really good. That’s a very, very good offensive ballclub (the Brewers have).”
Relief pitcher Chad Sobotka, making his big-league debut after being promoted by the Braves from Gwinnett earlier in the day, held the Brewers hitless in the ninth inning.
“Going in there, I thought it’s an unbelievable experience right here I have, just the moment I was at in my life,” Sobotka said afterward. “I kind of took a moment and stepped back. Just unbelievable. I’m speechless.”
Friday’s game started a three-game series against a team that won three of four from the Braves in Milwaukee early last month.