Kevin Gausman got his third start today, looking to pick up another win in the rotation as Buck has expanded the staff to 6 pitchers to accommodate both Gausman and Gonzalez. Last start, he neutralized the high powered Blue Jays offense but today, he started the first inning with a walk and single. The key for Gausman's success is the ability to get his pitches low and utilize the changeup. Next batter, Evan Longoria bounced a pitch to Hardy that he would bobble to load the bases with still no out. For JJ, it's another error for the gold glove shortstop after it appeared that he had shook his recent struggles in the field. Gausman was getting squeezed by the home plate umpire very early, running up his pitch count to over 30 pitches in the first frame. With the bases loaded and no one out, Gausman settled in, got ahead in the count and proceeded to strike out James Loney and Ben Zobrist then got David Dejesus to pop out on a 3-2 pitch to escape the inning scoreless. Just a major confidence booster for the young pitcher and save the Orioles from coming from behind the entire game.
Gausman was able to work out of another jam next inning, inducing yet another double play to get out of the inning with 17 pitches. Next inning, Machado robbed Longoria of another base hit this series, as he dove, made the stop and fired over to first to end the third. Still scoreless, Cobb breezed through the Orioles lineup besides stray walks to Joseph & Davis and Markakis' lead off single. In the fourth, Gausman allowed a two-out double that went to third on a passed ball but was able to get the next hitter to pop out to end yet another threat. Although his pitch count was 80 pitches after the fourth inning, he did a great job limiting deep counts and getting first pitch strikes. In the 5th, Markakis came back to the plate with two down and reached on an error by Ben Zobrist to keep the inning alive. Baltimore finally cashed in on a Rays' mistake, as Pierce would line a double to right field, plating Markakis to break the scoreless tie. Yet another piece of clutch hitting from Mr. Pearce, who continues to produce when he's in the lineup.
Gausman was able to navigate through the 5th inning with a shutout still intact and pitched a quick enough inning for Buck to let him pitch into the sixth. Longoria ripped a double to start off the inning and the lead looked to be in jeopardy. Once again, Gausman was able to battle back by striking out James Loney and getting Zobrist to pop out to short left field. However, Longoria made a mental mistake by putting his head down to run instead of watching the ball and was easily doubled off to end the inning. For Gausman, it was his third straight impressive start and kept the Rays scoreless through six strong innings after narrowly escaping what could have been a disastrous first frame. He has most certainly earned his shot to stay in the rotation for the near future and seems to have invigorated the entire pitching staff. It reminds me of Machado's impact on the Orioles offense during his first full season and in 2012. The young players seem to spark the veterans into picking up their play as a collective unit. As Chris Tillman continues to struggle, it is a pleasure to see someone stepping up to be the interim "ace" of the staff.
His counterpart in today's game, Alex Cobb, pitched extremely well too. Only allowing the one mistake to Steve Pearce that led to an RBI double, he has kept the Orioles hitters off balance all game. In 7 innings, Cobb scattered only 4 hits and 4 walks while striking out 6 batters. It is a matchup that many fans of each team would like to see in the future for the AL East. Cobb has simply been on the short end of the stick when it comes to the lackluster Rays offense.
Tommy Hunter would spell Gausman as the first reliever out of the pen to preserve the lead for the young prospect. Hunter struggled in his last appearance versus Toronto, but had pitched well before that in his return from the DL. Quickly, he would strike out DeJesus and got Jerry Sands to bounce out to Machado for the second out. He benefitted from keeping the ball down in today's appearance, something that he usually struggles with when he's at his worst. Yunel Escobar would then drive a ball to right center field wall but was robbed off extra bases as Adam Jones leapt to steal a hit away from the Tampa Bay shortstop. AJ was quiet at the plate today but made the big catch when it mattered. This was one of many outstanding defensive plays in this ballgame, as Machado and Longoria seemed to alternate web gems throughout the afternoon.
Remember how I said Nelson Cruz hadn't homered in a while? Well, that ended very quickly as Cruz would be robbed in his second and third at-bats but his fourth plate appearance would end the drought. Kirby Yates had come on to pitch with an out in the 8th and Nellie greeted him with a no-doubter to left field, giving the Orioles a MUCH needed insurance run. For Cruz, he now regains the league lead in homers and RBI, while crushing his 15th dinger on the road this season. 3 batters after to homer, both Ben McDonald and Joe Angel were still in awe of the moonshot off the bat of Cruz. Listening on the radio, I was anxiously waiting to see a highlight from MLB.com to watch for myself. His homers may come in bunches, but they also come at opportune times and this was certainly one of them.
After Tommy Hunter tossed another scoreless inning, Zach Britton was called upon to close out another game. Like last night, he wasted no time getting to work quickly, as he retired the Rays in order, striking out two hitters. His splitter looked great once again and O's fans must be relieved to have reduced stress when watching in the 9th inning when they have a lead. Gausman would improve to 3-1 on the season with his totals for his past three starts making it very difficult to keep him out of the rotation. Since he was recalled, Gausman has tossed 19 innings, only allowing 2 earned runs. For now, I predict Buck will stick with the six-man rotation due to the lack of a true ace on the staff currently. If Chris Tillman was pitching like his usual self, one could make an argument that you wouldn't want to wait 5 days to have Tilly start again. With an off day tomorrow, the pitching staff and bullpen get a chance to rest up for an ever so crucial weekend series in New York against the Yankees.
Tonight's Orange Journalism Player of the Game goes to Kevin Gausman after a gritty yet masterful performance against this potent Rays lineup. He's continued to be the Orioles hottest starter and I'm eagerly awaiting his next start. A close runner-up, Steve Pearce feasted on Rays pitching these past two days and doubled twice today, driving in the go-ahead run in the 5th to break the tie.