By Matt Vensel
11:57 PM EDT, May 21, 2013
The Orioles snapped a six-game losing streak by beating the New York Yankees on Tuesday night. And then there was more good news for Orioles fans when news broke that Kevin Gausman was getting the call.
With their rotation struggling, the temptation was too great for the Orioles, with a short-term solution and hopefully a long-term fixture in their rotation starting to dominate hitters just 30 or so miles down the road.
Before Tuesday, their starting pitching this month had been mediocre at best as their replacement arms haven’t been as effective as they were in 2012. Meanwhile, down in Bowie, Gausman, the 22-year-old righty whom the Orioles drafted fourth overall last June, had settled in against Double-A competition. Gausman has a 2-4 record for the Baysox with a 3.11 ERA, and has allowed just six earned runs total in his past five starts.
Wielding a fastball that often hits 98 mph and an effective changeup to go with it, Gausman has struck out 49 off-balance batters in 46 1/3 innings over eight starts while walking five.
JD Sussman of Fangraphs dropped in on Gausman's latest start in Trenton against the Thunder and concluded that “there is little Kevin Gausman can learn by remaining in the minor leagues.”
“To nitpick, he could throw his slider with more consistent shape,” Sussman wrote. “At times, it was loose and broke early. But, the ‘good’ slider was more frequently present. Also, he could also change hitters’ eye-levels better by working more effectively up in the zone with his fastball. He was content to work down in the zone a majority of the time. It may not happen overnight, but Gausman will develop into a front of the rotation arm.”
But Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said a week ago that Gausman was not a candidate for a call-up at the moment. Duquette did say, though, that he would have no reservations about promoting Gausman straight from Double-A.
“He’s doing fine where he is,” Duquette said, calling Double-A “the real proving ground.” “He’s getting his feet on the ground. He’s learning about the routine in pro baseball. He’s doing well where he is.”
Apparently the situation got dire enough for a change of heart.
That course of action certainly worked with Manny Machado, who did not stop at Triple-A on his way to Camden Yards in 2012. That was in August, too, when the playoff race was heating up and reality set in that the Orioles were actually a part of it.
These reeling Orioles need a boost, and more importantly they need another quality arm who can go six or seven innings a start.
So far, though, Gausman has not done enough to show that he can be counted on to go deep in games. He has averaged 5.8 innings per start in Bowie and has only gone more than six innings in two starts. He is getting better in this regard, having gone 7 2/3 innings on April 28 and seven in his next start May 5, but he ran up his pitch count in the next and didn't make it out of the fourth inning.
He regrouped to strike out 10 batters against Trenton on Friday.
“I felt really good,” Gausman told NJ.com after getting the win. “I really didn’t throw too many sliders because of all the left-handers in their lineup. My strength is fastball, changeup, split and the change was really my pitch the entire night; even to their right-handers. It was just working really well.”
Gausman recently said he wanted to work on improving that slider. The Orioles also wanted him to get used to pitching out of a five-man rotation, and going deeper in games was probably a point of emphasis as well.
There might not, as Sussman said, have been much left for him to improve on in Double-A, but even though he is still a young pitcher with whom you have to be careful, Gausman had a decorated college career at LSU.
The Orioles are no doubt struggling right now, and while a potential ace would be nice, they will probably settle for a reliable starter. It’s going to be fun watching Gausman make the leap to the pros in the coming weeks.
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