SAN FRANCISCO -- All season long, Kevin Gausman only has needed two pitches to lead a Giants pitching staff that finished the regular season second in the majors in ERA and third in the NL in batting average against. Gausman threw his four-seam fastball 1,583 times and his splitter 1,061 times. Those two pitches accounted for 88 percent of his total pitches.
They also led to Gausman's first season as an All-Star, a career-low 2.81 ERA and his first 200-strikeout season with 227.
As the Giants needed him most down the stretch, though, Gausman seemed to be losing steam at the worst time possible, and with it perhaps the best pitch in baseball. The Chicago Cubs hit .375 off his splitter when he allowed eight hits and three earned runs in a 15-4 Giants win on Sept. 11, and the San Diego Padres had success against it as well in Gausman's next two starts.
Gausman allowed 17 hits, eight earned runs and gave up four homers against the Padres over those two starts, with all four long balls coming against his splitter. The Padres hit .278 off Gausman's splitter in the two starts, and had a 67-percent hard-hit rate off the pitch. That all changed in his next two starts.
How? Gausman gives all the credit to his fellow Giants starting pitchers.
"I mean, really it was my other starters that watched me," Gausman said Friday. "We watch each other's bullpens every day. And so it's just an extra eye is watching you.
"So a couple of those guys came to me one day and were like, 'Hey, we think your glove tap is getting too big. That's why you're not able to get your arm in the same position that you were earlier in the season.' "
The short but simple fix went a long way, too.
Over his next, and final, two starts of the regular season, one against the Colorado Rockies and one against those same Padres, Gausman didn't allow a single hit off his splitter. Instead, the pitch resulted in 10 strikeouts over 16 at-bats.
"I tried to make my glove tap as small as I could to get myself in a position to get back on top of the ball, and I think the last two starts you can kind of see that it kind of came back to what it was," Gausman said.
Gausman's splitter on the season produced a .133 opposing batting average and just a .224 slugging percentage. It also resulted in a strikeout nearly 46 percent of the time, and its minus-23 run value made it the second-most valuable pitch in the major leagues, with a minimum of 100 plate appearances.
With his mechanical adjustment made, Gausman will need his splitter to be that exact same filthy strikeout pitch again Saturday night when he faces the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLDS, looking to give the Giants a two-games-to-none lead in the best-of-five series. Gausman faced the Dodgers three times this season, and went 1-1 with a 3.21 ERA. He struck out 16 and walked eight in 14 innings, but found a ton of success with the splitter.
In his three starts against the Dodgers, Gausman allowed one hit off the pitch. Dodgers hitters went 1-for-19 with 11 strikeouts off Gausman's splitter.
The last time Gausman faced the Dodgers was all the way back on July 19, his first start coming off the All-Star break. These are two different teams at this point, still battling for the upper hand on every single pitch.
So far, the advantage has gone to Gausman when he hurls his splitter to a dangerous Dodgers lineup. If he can do so again come Saturday night, it could inch the Giants that much closer to finally putting their rivals to rest this year.