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Change of scenery is already paying dividends for Kevin Gausman

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Atlanta’s big trade deadline acquisition is off to a good start so far. What’s great is that things could even get better for the Braves when it comes to Gausman.

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Braves’ most recent series in Pittsburgh was a very successful one. Any time you can pick up a sweep on the road, it’s happy days and right now the Braves clubhouse is filled with a bunch of Fonzies at the moment. The coolest cats in that room right now are the ones who are on the pitching staff, who flexed their muscles in a big way over the three game series in Pittsburgh.

The most impressive pitching performance in that series came from Kevin Gausman. The former Orioles starter threw an eight-inning gem on Tuesday night as the Braves cruised to a comfortable 6-1 victory over the Pirates. He ran into a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning of that stint, but he ended up deftly working his way out of it and then proceeded to continue shutting out the Pirates during his time on the mound.

This was Gausman’s best pitching performance as a member of the Braves and according to FanGraphs’ Game Score 2.0 statistic, his GSv2 of 79 from Tuesday night was on par with his performance against the Brewers back on August 10 and only topped by a complete game shutout that he threw for the Orioles back on May 5 against the Athletics (!!!). Again, using GSv2 as a measuring stick, his second and third best starts of the season have come as a member of the Braves.

Naturally, it makes sense that a good pitcher going from a team that could be historically bad to a team that is currently leading their division would see even a marginal bit of improvement in his production on the mound. Still, it appears that Gausman is starting to settle into a real groove after his first handful of starts with the Braves.

It also helps that the Braves as an organization have been a personal boon for Gausman’s development as a pitcher. Gausman himself admitted as much after his start against the Brewers, when he talked to Mark Bowman following that game:

The early cushion was comforting for Gausman, who delivered on the Braves’ request for him to focus on getting ahead more consistently.

Gausman recorded just 11 balls through the first five innings and threw a first-pitch strike to 18 of the 23 batters faced through the first six innings. The 56.4 first-strike percentage he carried into the game ranked 69th among 75 qualified pitchers.

”I knew I was filling up the strike zone early,” Gausman said. “That’s one of the biggest things they said when I got here, ‘We’re big believers in getting ahead.’ They showed me the numbers when you don’t. It kind of makes you want to throw up. I kind of took that into [account] tonight and just tried to pound the zone.”

The fact that Kevin Gausman reacted to the idea of “throw first-pitch strikes more often” as a grand baseball revelation is more of an indictment of what’s going on with the Orioles than it is a compliment of the Braves as an organization. Still, it’s nice to know that the Braves saw a way to help one of their pitchers improve and gave him the proper information to digest so that he could apply that information on the field.

Sure enough, it appears to be working. A quick look at his F-Strike rates for every one of his starts so far this season have revealed that two of his best five starts in that department have come as a member of the Braves. He had a F-Strike rate of 70 percent on the nose in that start against the Brewers, while it was at 65.5 percent on the other night against the Pirates. Again, it’s not much of a surprise to see that two of his best starts of his season have come when he actively had it in his head that he was going to attack the strike zone instead of doing whatever the Orioles were advising him to do when it came to pitching.

It would be crazy to expect Gausman to keep this up on every start — after all, he’s had a couple of non-pristine starts for the Braves as well. With that being said, the 27-year-old righty definitely appears to be trending in the right direction and if this keeps up, the Braves will have ended up fortifying their starting rotation for a relatively small price tag when it comes to prospect assets.

Kevin Gausman has already proven that he can be a productive pitcher — his solid work over the past two seasons is an example of that. It’s what the future holds for him in this organization that is cause for excitement. There’s been a lot of talk about when a breakout season is going to come for this guy and the Braves may end up being the beneficiary of that elusive breakout for Gausman.