The Giants view Kevin Gausman as their ace, but it's a title he takes on reluctantly. After he was named the opening day starter, Gausman said his main goal as the man leading the rotation was to give the bullpen a little breather every five days.
"Be the stopper on the night when the bullpen needs a break," he said in March.
Gausman has helped the relievers through two starts. Now he needs a little help from them.
It's popular to compare the 30-year-old right-hander to Jason Schmidt, another hard-thrower who was a late bloomer with the Giants, but so far Gausman has been more like Matt Cain. He allowed two earned runs in 13 2/3 innings on the road trip, but ended up with two no-decisions.
On Wednesday, the Giants at least salvaged a 3-2 win over the Padres. After Tyler Rogers blew the lead in the eighth, the Giants scored in their half of the 10th and Wandy Peralta brought out his best stuff for his first career save.
Rogers gave up a solo blast to Wil Myers -- the preeminent Giant Killer now that Nolan Arenado has been traded out of the NL West -- in the eighth, and for the second time in six days, Gausman's good work didn't result in a win. He went 6 2/3 strong innings on opening day but the bullpen allowed six runs in the eighth. This time, it was seven innings of four-hit ball, with Gausman easily outdistancing Blake Snell, one of the Padres' big offseason additions.
Gausman said the matchup was one he was looking forward to. He knew runs were going to be at a premium and he thought both starters threw well. Snell gave up just a two-run blast to Darin Ruf but a high pitch count limited him to five innings.
"Any time you face a guy that's won a Cy Young, you want to beat him, obviously," Gausman said. "You definitely kind of elevate your game a little bit more."
Gausman was sharp early, but he didn't fully elevate until Snell departed. That's when Gausman did his best work. When a two-out error put him in a jam in the sixth, he pumped splitters to get ahead of 22-year-old rookie catcher Luis Campusano and then put him away with a 97 mph inside fastball.
In the seventh, Gausman came back out with a good fastball and had a 1-2-3 inning, putting Jorge Mateo on his knees with his 96th and final pitch. That final out came on the splitter, a pitch Gausman threw 24 times, resulting in eight swinging strikes and four of his five strikeouts. It's one of the best off-speed pitches in the game right now, and Gausman uses it just about every time he's in a big spot.
"I had a really good feel for it early in the game and the I lost a feel for it about the fourth inning for about an inning and a half, and then I kinda found it," Gausman said. "I think the last one (to Mateo) was probably the best one I threw of the day. Yeah, that's such a big pitch for me and it plays so well off my fastball and I throw it against righties and lefties. I always feel like when that pitch is going good, I can face anybody."
Right now, he looks capable of that, and the Giants need it. The rotation has been good early but figures to be their weak spot over 162 games. In Gausman, though, they have someone who can stand up to the best the other team has to offer and give the Giants a chance. So far he has gotten the better of Marco Gonzales and Snell, and it doesn't get any easier.
Gausman is scheduled to face Reds ace Luis Castillo next Tuesday at Oracle Park, but the Giants have every reason to think he'll be up for the test.