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Unlucky Gausman reserving judgment on 'different' game

Kevin Gausman Toronto Blue Jays Kevin Gausman - The Canadian Press

ST. LOUIS — With two baseball games that counted now in the books for the Toronto Blue Jays, the real reviews on all the changes across Major League Baseball this season are starting to roll in.

A spring training setting was one thing, but the regular season is a different animal.

After making his season debut Saturday and not giving up an earned run over six strong frames but still taking the loss in the 4-1 win by the St. Louis Cardinals, 32-year-old pitcher Kevin Gausman isn’t so sure just yet.

“I think there was two pitches to start the inning that I looked up and there was four seconds, and it was kind of like, ‘Alright, I don’t have time, gotta go,’” the 10-season veteran said of the pitch clock. “Got lucky, I threw two strikes with both of them. I think the good thing was we had spring training to get used to those things, but yeah it’s a little bit different of a game for sure.”

Definitely different.

But better?

Again, Gausman is reserving judgment for now.

The Jays and Cards played a three-hour, 38-minute game on opening day, and the two teams followed that up with a much quicker pace in Gausman’s start, finishing in two hours and 31 minutes.

“I think the book is still out on that,” Gausman said when asked if he thinks it’s a better game and not just a different one. “We’ll see as time goes on. It’s definitely a little faster. You’ve really gotta be paying attention and [the hitters] have an advantage. Especially a starting pitcher, it’s on you. You can’t let the clock be something that gets to you or speeds you up or that you have to wait on.”

Another change that is going to affect Gausman at times, for both better and worse, is the shift ban.

Some tough luck on balls in play changed Gausman’s final 2022 stat line, and his second season in a Blue Jays uniform has started out in similar fashion.

Making the second start of his career Saturday — and first since 2018 in Detroit — where the mercury was below 46 degrees Fahrenheit at first pitch, Gausman was excellent, and if it weren’t for a rare throwing error by three-time Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman, things may have turned out differently.

While it wasn’t all batted ball luck doing Gausman and the Jays in on this day, his .363 batting average on balls in play from a year ago is still something he’s hoping doesn’t happen again.

Last year, it was a lot of balls finding vacant holes due to the shift.

On Saturday, it was a bit of the opposite, as the club is still tinkering with different ways to defend behind the veteran right-hander.

“Me and [field coordinator] Gil [Kim] talk before every start and kind of figure out where we want guys to be, especially up the middle against me,” Gausman said. “There was two hits today that have been outs the last five years of my career because of the way the shift used to be. Those are things that you’re going to see that are going to happen but I think the book is still out on that and we’re trying to figure that out. There’s never just a perfect way to play defence behind me because things are going to happen.”

Starting pitchers seem to be the ones adjusting to the different pace of the pitch clock as they’re trying to go deep into games.

A lot of relievers just haven’t had enough of a sample size, and that includes right-handed reliever Erik Swanson, who has thrown in both games already.

“I haven’t really had much issue with it,” Swanson said. “I’ve always worked pretty quick out there. I think today was the first time I’ve kind of looked at it where I’ve had to kind of speed up, but other than that it’s been a pretty easy adjustment and it’s not a huge factor in the game for me right now."

“I looked up and it was two seconds. That’s the first time I’ve even come close to it.”

Many have predicted trouble in late-game high-leverage moments, but Swanson, who’s going to be asked to get a ton of tough outs late in games and get the ball to all-star closer Jordan Romano, isn’t expecting things to change in September and October.

“I don’t think it’ll be a huge deal, but the only time it might be is if you get into a long at-bat with somebody and usually in the past you’d be able to take your time and maybe walk around the mound for a quick second to catch your breath,” Swanson said. “Now it’s kind of go, go, go.”

Similar to Gausman, now that the lights are on and the games matter, it does feel like a different game to Swanson.

“A little bit,” he said. “It’s a little bit quicker. I don’t know what the time was today but opening day was a long one.”