As Gausman struggles to find command, Blue Jays turn attention to Yankees

Toronto Blue Jays' Kevin Gausman reflects on his rough start against the Baltimore Orioles, discussing his lack of command and energy throughout the game and voices his frustration about putting the bullpen in a tough spot going into the weekend.

At one point during his lengthy mea culpa after his worst start in almost three years, the urge surfaced to tap Kevin Gausman on his shoulder and whisper: “Think about how far you’ve come.”

But this is 2022 and we – you, me, us, them, the Toronto Blue Jays – don’t do silver linings anymore. Not when the New York Yankees are pillaging their way through the American League East and coming to your town in 24 hours, looking to extend their division lead to double digits four days before the official start of summer.

So when Gausman uses words like “embarrassment” and “unacceptable,” following a 2 1/3-inning stint in a 10-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, you just stand there and take the lumps with him and agree, then go back and check on how the Yankees are doing in their game.

“We’re playing good baseball,” manager Charlie Montoyo said afterward, accepting an invitation to turn the page on the split of a four-game series with the Orioles and look ahead to Friday night’s first of three games against the Yankees. “It’s the American League East … and it’s just going to be like this all year.”

Well, hopefully, it’s not like this all year. Hopefully, somebody can put the brakes on the Yankees, who went into Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays with a 46-16 mark that is the best 62-game record since the 2001 Seattle Mariners ended up going on to win a Major League-record 116 games, the best run differential in the game and – look, if you want to know how good they are read their damned game notes, OK? The last time the teams met was May 11 in the Bronx, when the Yankees capped off a quick two-game sweep with a 5-3 win to move to 22-8 and a four-game lead over the second-place Tampa Bay Rays.

The Blue Jays were in third at 17-15, six games back.

Since then the Jays have gone a tidy 18-11 and jumped over the Rays on May 31 to hold down second place … but they started Thursday nine games back of the Yankees, who had gone 24-8 leading up to a series finale against the Rays.

Truthfully? Forget the Yankees right now. It’s more about keeping an eye on the lurking Boston Red Sox, who have gone 24-11 since starting 10-19.

Gausman’s start – his worst since 2019 - means that he will of course miss the Yankees series Instead, the Blue Jays will send out Ross Stripling, forced into the rotation by Hyun Jin Ryu’s ineffectiveness and subsequent season-ending elbow issues, Alek Manoah … and Yusei Kikuchi, who hasn’t been very good unless he’s facing the Yankees, with a 3.07 ERA and .192 opponents average against in three starts already this season.

Long-term, the Blue Jays have the same needs the last time the teams met: a lack of swing and miss stuff at the back end of the bullpen (too much trickery; not enough velocity) and the lack of an impactful left-handed bat. Shorter-term? Their star shortstop, Bo Bichette, came out of Thursday’s game to have x-rays taken of his foot after fouling off a pitch. They were negative, which means “talk to me Friday.” Their game-changing defensive third baseman who has started to find his power stroke (Matt Chapman) couldn’t answer the bell because the sore right wrist he injured in the batting cage flared up, on a day in which centre-fielder George Springer was given a scheduled day off.

Bichette’s removal from the game meant Santiago Espinal – already subbing for Chapman – had to move to short which meant that Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., finished the game at third base.

The good news? Jeremy Beasley and Matt Gage sucked up enough garbage time following Gausman and David Phelps that at least the Blue Jays leverage bullpen arms, such as they are, will be available.

I know, I know: there’s a silver lining. The last time Gausman (5-6) gave up seven runs in a game was June 15, 2019, when as a member of the Atlanta Braves he was still finding his way while looking at a 6.17 ERA. But at least he hung around for five innings on that day, a 7-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Thursday, with the roof closed because of a threat of stormy weather, he was out after 2 1/3 innings, having allowed five earned runs out of the seven put on the board by the Orioles.

That was back when Gausman was searching for something or somebody to prevent him from becoming just another guy and ultimately he found it, to the point where the Blue Jays gave him a five-year, $110-million contract. Thursday, the search was for something else: command and, he acknowledged, energy despite the fact the mid-afternoon crowd of 36,832 was buzzing even before the first pitch.

Gausman, at least, didn’t think it was the result of some of the pitch-tipping issues that perplexed against the Seattle Mariners or even the result of the Orioles following the Minnesota Twins game plan.

“Then I was throwing the ball well, it’s just that they had a really good game-plan against me,” Gausman said. “Today I wasn’t hitting my spots. I just didn’t have anything today. Just not acceptable.”

It was frightening watching the way the 27-37 Orioles ripped into Gausman. Seventeen pitches in the third inning. Seven batters. Two of the seven runs were unearned when Espinal was charged with an error after deflecting a bouncer off the bat of Austin Hays, moving Cedric Mullins to third. Mullins set the table by singling on a 1-0 splitter from Gausman, but the Orioles picked on all his pitches: putting three splitters, three four-seam fastballs and a change-up into play, their six runs scored in the inning tying a season-high.

Orioles starter Tyler Wells, meanwhile, threw six innings of one-hit ball – that hit being Teoscar Hernandez’s fifth home run of the season – in raising his record to 4-4.

“The command just wasn’t there with my fastball,” Gausman said later. “Command of the split wasn’t there either. I got through the first two innings pretty unscathed and thought I threw the ball pretty well … but I just didn’t really have the energy today to keep going. For whatever reason I was just really tired out there.

“It’s unfortunate I put the team in that situation. It’s embarrassing to be honest, to go out and do that against a team I think we should beat. Maybe it sounds bad to say, but I think we should beat them more than we lose to them. Going for a series win and to go out and do that is unacceptable.

“It sucks,” Gausman said. “It never happens to me, but when it does, you feel like crap putting your team and yourself in that situation.”

Yet that’s where Gausman and the Blue Jays found themselves on Thursday. And here come the Yankees, ready to rip your book to shreds let alone allow you to turn the page.

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