It was a start that easily could have gotten out-of-hand for Nashville Sounds’ right-hander Daniel Gossett. A lead-off walk, three hits, a fielding error and a wild pitch contributed to a four-run first inning for the Oklahoma City Dodgers during Gossett's start on Wednesday. After the inning ended, Gossett gathered himself and, like a veteran, made a mental adjustment.
“I was trying to be too fine and trying to be cute. I was trying to throw that perfect two-seamer, that perfect cutter,” Gossett said of the first inning of his start on April 12. “There was no intent and no aggression behind my pitching. After that first inning, I found a new focus and locked it in. I picked my spot and gave it all I’ve got.”
Newly focused, Gossett retired the next nine batters he faced before he was lifted after four innings and 78 pitches. He finished the start charged with four runs (three earned) on three hits, one walk and eight strike-outs. In a big league game, Gossett likely would have returned for the fifth and possibly the sixth innings, but the A’s player development plan calls for pitch counts to be shortened after high-stress first-innings.
Still, the start was indicative of the maturation process for Gossett, who went from struggling in the Midwest League in 2015 to racing through three levels in 2016. Now at the beginning of his third full season in professional baseball, Gossett stands one step away from reaching the major leagues.
This spring, Gossett was a non-roster invitee to big league camp and he got an opportunity to test his stuff against big league hitters for the first time. Gossett started one big league game for the A’s this spring and appeared in three major-league contests. He said that his time in big league camp was a good gauge for where he stood against the highest-level competition.
“That was a little confirmation that I have the stuff to get those hitters out,” Gossett said. “I just have to refine it a little bit and be more consistent and move forward from there. It was an awesome opportunity and an honor. I just tried to take away as much as I could from it.”
Wednesday’s start was Gossett’s fifth at the Triple-A level, dating back to last season, when he was promoted from Double-A Midland for the final two weeks of the regular season and remained in the rotation for the post-season. The 24-year-old says that there is a significant difference in the level of competition he has faced in those five starts compared to the lower levels.
“The majority of the people at this level have big league time, so they are obviously top-tier players. From a pitching standpoint, every hitter has a better approach. You get the guys who are very good hitters at the lower levels, but their approach is just off. As soon as they get their approach working, they are moved to Triple-A and the big leagues,” Gossett said. “Having a very good hitter with a good approach isn’t very fun to pitch to, but that’s every hitter in this league. There aren’t too many easy at-bats.”
Gossett made a lot of hitters look like easy at-bats last season, when he posted a 2.69 ERA, struck-out 151 in 153.2 innings and held opposing batters to a .221 average. It was a big turnaround for the Clemson alum, who struggled to find a rhythm with Low-A Beloit in 2015. That season, Midwest League hitters batted .270 against him and Gossett struck-out only 112. His velocity on his four-seam fastball was down for much of the year and hitters simply refused to swing at his breaking ball and change-up while waiting for the straight four-seamer. Midway through that season, Gossett began throwing a two-seam fastball and he saw good results with the pitch. The next spring, he added a cutter to the mix and regained the velocity on his four-seamer. He also attacked the strike-zone more aggressively. With two fastballs with movement to back his above-average secondary pitches, Gossett went from hittable to dominating.
With a strong spring training under his belt, Gossett broke camp in the Sounds’ rotation and was named the team’s Opening Day starter. He was honored to get that starting nod, but he isn’t caught up in accolades.
“I don’t want to buy into it too much, but it is obviously an honor [to pitch on Opening Day],” Gossett said. “But it’s an honor to step on the field everyday. That means somebody wants you out there, which is pretty cool.”
As Gossett works towards his ultimate goal of reaching the big leagues, he finds himself surrounded by players with major-league experience. Sixteen players on the Sounds’ Opening Day roster have some big league time, including both of Nashville’s catchers. Gossett says having Bruce Maxwell and Ryan Lavarnway calling pitches gives him confidence as he takes on Triple-A hitters.
“I use the catchers’ experience a lot. They are big leaguers for a reason and I have to use them as much as I can,” Gossett said. “We have good hitters coming up and knowing that my catcher has called games against big league hitters and has caught pitchers that are better than myself, I’m confident that they are going to be putting down the right signs.”
Gossett is working with Triple-A pitching coach Rick Rodriguez for the first time and he is enjoying his interaction with the longtime A’s pitcher and coach, who has been with the A’s organization for 33 years.
“I love Rick. Rick is the man. He is light-hearted enough to where you can joke around with him, but when you need him to be coaching, he’s there doing that for you, too,” Gossett said. “He’s a great coach and I have enjoyed my time with him so far.”
The Sounds won the most regular season games in the Pacific Coast League last season and they begin this year with a roster featuring several of the key players from their 2016 team, as well as top prospects from the A’s 2016 Texas League champion Double-A Midland squad and several minor league free agent signings. New Nashville manager Ryan Christenson is one of those who joined the Sounds’ roster from the 2016 Midland squad. Christenson is developing into a prospect in his own right, winning two straight Texas League titles and earning post-season berths in all four of his seasons as a manager in the A’s minor league system. Gossett says it’s no coincidence that Christenson has had successful teams since becoming a minor league manager.
“I’m extremely happy for him for the promotion and selfishly happy because I get to spend more time with him. He’s a great manager. Knows the game in-and-out,” Gossett said. “He pays attention to the little things. We talked a lot in spring training about people swinging at first pitches and the batting average on first pitch and the slugging percentage on first-pitch swinging. That isn’t something that I would have really thought about, but that’s a very smart man paying attention to the game in a way that I wouldn’t have always done.”
Although Nashville is off to a bit of a slow start with a 3-5 record, Gossett says the 2017 Sounds are a confident group.
“The clubhouse is a great environment. Everybody is on the same page. Nobody is butting heads, so it’s really cool to see,” Gossett said. “You have a lot of experience in one room. If we can get it to come together at the right time, we can do something special.”
Daniel Gossett can be followed on Twitter at @DGossett23.