Kevin Gausman made Orioles director of pitching development Rick Peterson look like a modern-day Nostradamus.
After I watched Gausman, the Orioles top choice in the 2012 draft, dazzle for the Single-A Aberdeen Ironbirds in a 3-1 win over the Connecticut Tigers last August, Peterson couldn’t stop gushing about the young right-hander.
Gausman threw only 30 pitches that day – 20 for strikes. But his mid-90s fastball was dancing and his back-breaking changeup had the Tigers’ batters swinging seemingly before the ball was out of the kid’s hand.
“It’s really special,” Peterson said of Gausman’s performance up to that point. “When you see a guy who can pound the bottom of the strike zone – and he was even up a little bit today.
“But that along with the swing-and-miss changeup? That’s a fast track. That’s a real fast track. The guys with fastballs [and] changeups, they can fly through the system.”
Gausman flew through the system, all right. Now here he is after just 14 starts in the minor leagues, about to make his major league debut with the Orioles against the home-standing Toronto Blue Jays tonight.
If the kid sticks around at this level – and all indications are the Orioles will give him every opportunity to do so – Baltimore fans will love him.
Gausman is a joy to watch on the mound. He works fast, like a taxi’s waiting for him, and attacks the hitters. But he’s also an engaging character off the field, with a full array of game-day superstitions he’s not shy about discussing.
Let’s start with how he puts on his uniform socks.
“I put on one sock and go get something to drink,” he told me in August. “Then I put on the other sock, take it off, and go get something to drink. Then I put it back on. Then I put on the other one and go get something to drink.”
Whew. That’s a lot of work. And that’s just for his socks.
He also leaps over the foul line when running out to the mound. And his first warm-up pitch every inning in the minors was a rocket thrown from the back of the mound after he did a little crow-hop over the pitching rubber.
Back in college at LSU, he used to eat a powdered doughnut before taking the mound each inning – and four doughnuts between innings. But he gave that up on the advice of nutritionists, who somehow felt it was an unhealthy habit.
We’ll see how many of Gausman’s rituals carry over to the big leagues, where the pressure to conform is overwhelming and where rookies can get razzed just for reading a book, never mind for any other quirks they have.
But Gausman seems pretty secure in who he is. He should be fun to watch.