As Gausman rebounds from pitch-tipping scare, Blue Jays hitters come up empty

DETROIT — Kevin Gausman wasn’t tipping his pitches, but unfortunately for the Blue Jays, neither was Beau Brieske.

A strong start from Gausman went to waste and Gabriel Moreno’s big-league debut will go down as a loss as the Blue Jays lost 3-1 to the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on Saturday. Moreno singled with two out in the ninth and later scored on a George Springer single, but closer Gregory Soto eventually induced a fly-out off Bo Bichette’s bat to complete the Tigers’ win.

Whether Gausman was tipping against the Minnesota Twins last weekend is hard to say with full confidence. If he was tipping, the Twins would keep that information to themselves. And if he wasn’t, why would they go out of their way to dispel the idea?

As manager Charlie Montoyo said before Saturday’s game. “No one would ever tell you if he was.”

Plus, cameras are everywhere and tells can be small. Sometimes really small.

“It’s everything,” Montoyo said, “I’m telling you — everything. Like, smiling when you throw a change-up.”

Ultimately, it’s on the Blue Jays to ensure Gausman’s as consistent as possible and there were efforts made on that front over the last week. The right-hander said he worked on ‘some things’ to keep hitters guessing, but declined to say what exactly those things were. Either way, he doesn’t think he’s been tipping.

“I didn’t really find anything, honestly,” Gausman said. “(The Twins) had a really good approach against me. Probably the best there’s been the last couple years. You’re always searching for things, but there wasn’t anything big I found.”

But in the end, there’s going to be a degree of predictability in the way that he pitches since his splitters are generally down and his fastballs are generally up. Predictable or not, it’s a formula that’s worked for a few years now.

On Saturday, the Tigers had few answers for the combination as Gausman pitched six innings while allowing just two runs, one of which was unearned. He struck out four while generating 15 total swinging strikes, including 11 on his splitter. All told, it was an encouraging bounce-back outing in which the Tigers looked far less comfortable than the Twins did a week ago.

“He was better today,” Montoyo said. “He had to battle still, but he made big pitches.”

Behind the plate was Moreno, who held his own defensively from the very beginning. The Tigers challenged the 22-year-old in the bottom of the first inning, sending Victor Reyes to second on a steal attempt with one out. Moreno’s throw was strong and perfectly placed, but contact with Reyes jostled the ball out of Bichette’s glove and the Tigers’ centre fielder was ruled safe.

It took all of 1.83 seconds for Moreno to catch the ball and get it to second base — an elite pop-time made possible with an 81.3 m.p.h. throw. Technically speaking, it was his first caught stealing as a major-leaguer as the official scorer ruled that Reyes reached on a Bichette error.

“I could hear it when it went by,” Gausman said. “That’s pretty cool.”

So what does it sound like?

“Pssssssssssst.”

A few moments afterwards, it was Miguel Cabrera’s turn to bat. As he stepped in, the greatest Venezuelan player of all time went out of his way to compliment Moreno, a native of Barquisimeto.

From the mound, Gausman liked what he saw from the rookie catcher all game.

“He did a great job,” Gausman said. “He called a great game, blocked the ball really well. And that’s my big question any time I have a new catcher is ‘how do they block the split.’ He did a hell of a job blocking it today and that was huge.”

After one of two walks to the notoriously aggressive Javy Baez, Moreno walked out to the mound to check on Gausman, a 10-year MLB veteran.

“You good?” Gausman recalled Moreno saying. “He has a good feel for the game. I’d expect a veteran guy to come out then. To have a young catcher who comes out there and feels confident coming out there to say that to me. It’s good to get the first everything out of the way.”

At the plate, Moreno went 1-for-4 with a single while wearing No. 55 in a nod to Russell Martin. He grounded out to the pitcher on the first pitch he saw in the second inning and was called out on strikes in the fourth. In the seventh, he made a routine grounder to short into a close play by sprinting down the line and flashing some impressive speed.

As Montoyo said: “This guy’s got tools.”

Finally, with two out in the ninth, he singled to centre field for his first big-league hit.

“Very emotional,” Moreno said through interpreter Hector Lebron. “I’ll remember this moment for the rest of my life.”

Regardless of Saturday’s results, Moreno’s here to play. By optioning Zack Collins to triple-A Buffalo before the game, the Blue Jays returned to a two-catcher configuration, a reflection of their confidence in Moreno’s defensive ability. Expect the rookie to catch roughly half of the team’s games while Alejandro Kirk handles the other half while also getting regular starts at DH to keep his bat in the lineup.

On Sunday, the series wraps up with Ross Stripling taking the ball against Tarik Skubal. And behind the plate? Look for No. 55 once again.

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