DUNEDIN, Fla. - Starter Kevin Gausman was as advertised in his first season with the Toronto Blue Jays after signing a lucrative long-term contract with the team.

One of the anchors of the 2022 starting rotation with ace Alek Manoah, Gausman was strong in the first half of the season but his numbers slipped a bit over the second half.

He's hoping to find consistency for the duration of the 2023 campaign.

“For whatever reason I've hit the ground running over the last couple years in the first half,” Gausman said Thursday. “I almost wish I could push that towards the end of the season.

“But that's just normal when you make 30-something starts. Whether it's the start of the season or the end of the season, it's a grind no matter what. Some of that stuff is just baseball.”

Gausman, who signed a $110-million, five-year deal in late 2021, was 12-10 last season with a 3.35 earned-run average over 31 starts. He was fifth in the AL with 205 strikeouts and issued just 28 walks over 174 2/3 innings.

The 32-year-old right-hander had an ERA under three for most of April and May in his first season with Toronto.

A so-so June and July was followed by a decent August, when he went 3-1 over six starts with a 2.70 ERA. But he gave up five earned runs in two of his last five starts down the stretch.

“You can't really put your finger on it,” said Blue Jays manager John Schneider. “Guys go up and down and they have off-nights and things like that. But in our eyes, he was pretty consistent all year.”

Gausman had a no-decision in a Game 2 wild-card loss to Seattle that eliminated Toronto from the post-season. He allowed four earned runs and five hits over 5 2/3 innings while striking out seven.

The 10-year big-league veteran said he felt fine physically over the second half and is thinking about ways to tweak his bullpen sessions as he builds up this spring.

“With that split(-finger pitch), he's got that dialed in from the get-go ,” Schneider said. “He gets a lot of swing and miss on it. His first three outings last year were amazing and I don't think he walked anyone until 40-something innings in last year.

“I think that's his M.O. and when you have those kind of weapons, you're just really dialed in with it and it makes it that much easier.”

Manoah and Gausman were followed by Jose Berrios, Ross Stripling and a variety of fifth starters for most of last season after Hyun Jin Ryu went down in June due to Tommy John surgery.

Stripling was lost to free agency but the Blue Jays signed right-hander Chris Bassitt to a three-year deal last December. If Berrios can bounce back after an off-year, Toronto could have a really deep front four.

Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White appear to be the front-runners for the No. 5 spot, one of the few question marks in the Toronto lineup this spring.

White is a little behind in his buildup due to a minor right shoulder impingement, Schneider said, while Ryu is progressing well and is on schedule for a potential return in the summer.

Ryu was a key cog in the Toronto rotation in 2020 and 2021.

“To get him back at any point this year would be a huge boost,” Schneider said. “(We) would obviously be sliding him right into the rotation.”

The Blue Jays have unveiled their minor-league field managers, high performance and player development departments for 2023.

Casey Candaele will serve as skipper at Triple-A Buffalo and Cesar Martin will manage the Double-A New Hampshire team. Other managers include Brent Lavallee (High-A Vancouver), Donnie Murphy (Single-A Dunedin), Jose Mayorga (Florida Complex League and Andy Fermin (Dominican Summer League).

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 16, 2023.