The baseball world has discovered over the past two seasons that Kevin Gausman's splitter is one of the best pitches in the game, and he complements it with a fastball that runs up into the upper 90s when he needs a little bit extra. But neither pitch was what stood out to his manager on Tuesday night.
Gausman, as has been the case a few times recently, didn't feel at his best, and it was clear that his command wasn't what it usually is. The Arizona Diamondbacks put a runner on in every one of Gausman's five innings, but he responded with strikeouts every time, leading the way in an 8-0 win that got the Giants back on track after an ugly weekend.
"On a night like that, he goes five scoreless and strikes out nine, that tells you what type of competitor he is," Kapler said. "He was able to grind through a tough five-inning outing and we needed it from him."
Gausman said he's not sure why he has felt off a couple of times in recent weeks. He theorized that perhaps it was the long road trip back east that took something out of him, but the Diamondbacks weren't able to take advantage.
The Giants' ace scattered five hits and two walks, lowering his ERA to 1.53. He ranks third in the National League behind New York's Jacob deGrom (0.80) and Milwaukee's Brandon Woodruff (1.41).
"I wasn't very crisp but I made some big pitches when I needed to," Gausman said. "It seemed like any time I needed to make a big pitch, even if I missed my spot, it just happened to work out."
Gausman has made a habit of 1-2-3 innings this year, but nothing came easy on this night. The Diamondbacks fell behind 3-0 on Brandon Crawford's bases-loaded double, but they immediately threatened to square things back up, putting runners on first and third with no outs in the bottom of the first.
Gausman didn't have a feel for his trademark splitter early on, so he leaned on his four-seamer, which has also been an elite pitch for him. Opposing hitters entered the night batting .170 off the pitch, and Gausman threw a 95 mph fastball past Eduardo Escobar, the NL RBI leader, and then ended the inning by throwing three straight to Carson Kelly, who appeared to be looking for something else. He watched all three land in the strike zone.
"I think hitters are always looking for (my splitter), so any time I get a guy with two strikes, I think in the back of any hitters' mind they've got to respect my split," Gausman said. "If I'm able to dot the fastball like I was in that (at-bat), it can be pretty tough."
Gausman said his splitter has slowed hitters down, and Buster Posey is taking advantage by calling fastballs up. Gausman is so confident in the elevated heater that he feels the worst that'll happen is a foul ball, which isn't all that bad, because then it just sets up another splitter. The Diamondbacks looked like they were playing that guessing game most of the night.
They got a one-out double in the second, a two-out double in the third, and a walk and single with one out in the fourth, but Gausman buckled down every time. All three of those innings ended with swinging strikeouts. Jarlin Garcia was warming up in the fourth, but Gausman made it back out for the fifth and worked around a one-out single.
The Diamondbacks went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position against Gausman, who has shown a preternatural ability to raise his game in those situations. Opposing hitters are just 1-for-37 against him this season with runners in scoring position.
"I just feel confident with my best two pitches," Gausman said, "And usually that's what I'm going to go to when the going gets tough."