There was some uncertainty as to how Kevin Gausman would fare in his return to the American League East, where his career began with Baltimore in 2013.

He debuted as a top prospect only a year after being selected fourth overall out of LSU, but endured an uneven five-and-a-half years with the Orioles, hampered by the smaller parks and strong lineups of the division.

After signing with the San Francisco Giants in 2020, he became a different pitcher, compiling a 3.00 ERA and raising his strikeout rate in 251 innings over two seasons. He earned the first down-ballot Cy Young votes of his career in 2021, and that allowed him to cash in on the free-agent market: Gausman signed a five-year, $110-million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays right before the lockout was imposed.

But that success came in a different league, in larger ballparks, and often against lineups where the pitcher batted. How much of those gains would transfer to the AL East? And could Gausman fill the void left by Robbie Ray, who dazzled in 193 innings last season to win the AL Cy Young Award?

The early answers are: Many, and Robbie Ray who?

What's remarkable about Gausman this season is not just that he's been good in a division where it's terrifying to see a fly ball hit in the air, but that he's gotten better. Entering play Thursday, Gausman led the majors in pitching WAR (2.2), FIP (0.78), and strikeout-to-walk ratio (46-to-1).

How is Gausman doing it? With a new pitch, and a new focus.

Gausman's turnaround story begins in the sun-soaked bullpens of the Giants' spring-training complex in Scottsdale, Arizona, before camps were shut down in March 2020.

He arrived there on a one-year deal, after posting a 5.72 ERA in 2019, splitting time between Atlanta and Cincinnati after being claimed off waivers in August. He was essentially a two-pitch pitcher, throwing a fastball and his signature split-changeup. He tossed in an occasional breaking ball.