SCOTTSDALE — Mike Yastrzemski reached on the outside part of the plate and lofted a long fly ball that curved foul, bouncing far short of the right-field wall for what probably would be an out in real game play.
And yet, that contact — the closest that a ball came to being barreled up off Kevin Gausman — stood out as the only sign of a hitter coming close to figuring out the Giants’ ace.
Gausman looked to be in midseason form on Day 1 for him, his debut during live batting practice going swimmingly for him and drowningly for hitters like Yastrzemski, Evan Longoria and Alex Dickerson, who were not nearly ready for that heat just yet.
It is easy for stuff to impress under the Arizona sun, when hitters are lagging and don’t see their own pitchers’ stuff often enough. What is harder to do is come in throwing 97 mph, which Longoria said Gausman was buzzing.
“It’s not often you see a guy execute his pitches on Day One like Kevin did today,” Gabe Kapler said Tuesday, before adding the most surprising part. “… He didn’t throw his split. He was able to do that without his best weapon.”
First decent contact off Gausman is a Yaz foul ball. pic.twitter.com/hSNNc9hSpd
— Mark W. Sanchez (@MarkWSanchez) February 23, 2021
Gausman’s splitter was among the best pitches in all of baseball last season, when he threw it nearly as often as his mid-90s fastball and opposing hitters batted .106 off it. It corresponded with the best campaign of his career, posting a 3.62 ERA (and 3.09 FIP) with 79 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings, emerging as the best pitcher for a staff that needed one.
He’s back on a qualifying offer, though he and the club have talked about a multiyear pact. If Tuesday represents the beginning of Gausman proving to the Giants he’s worth locking up, it was a solid start.
“He looked unbelievable,” Dickerson said over Zoom. “If he has any more in the tank than that, it’s crazy.”
“Wouldn’t mind if I didn’t have to see another guy throwing 97 until the middle of the spring,” Longoria added after seeing the fastball, changeup and breaking ball from Gausman.
The Giants would take the same Gausman they saw last year, when he put together a (shortened) complete season and emerged as their most consistent and high-octane option. The Giants had the No. 4-overall pick in 2012 tweak his usage and rely more than ever on the pitch he didn’t unveil Tuesday, as well as his offspeed stuff.
While he threw harder than he had since 2015 — his fastball averaged 95.1 mph — he threw the pitch less frequently than ever, just 51.2 percent of the time. He had thrown it as much as 70.5 percent of the time in 2014 and 57.1 percent in 2019. At a time when so many pitchers bring heat, the Giants are valuing offspeed stuff that throws hitters off.
Kapler praised his stuff and couldn’t find much room for improvement this season, though he did note there are “a few areas of the strike zone that he can focus on that will help him,” without wanting to divulge more.
He looked the part of ace when he was on the mound. His manager noticed the confidence that comes with that.
“Gausman is looking like he knows how good he is,” Kapler said. “That’s a really good thing for us.”