Over the weekend I received a whole lot of correspondence about the Orioles' decision to send right-hander Kevin Gausman to Triple-A Norfolk on Friday night despite the fact that he pitched well in his past three starts.
I tried to explain that it was procedural and that he would be back Friday afternoon to start against the Tampa Bay Rays, be sent down Friday night and then likely will be up again to start the following week against the Texas Rangers.
Some of you didn’t care about the rationale; you were still ticked. In fact, I received one tweet Sunday from a guy who hammered the Orioles for demoting Gausman, especially considering they then signed left-hander Randy Wolf to a minor league deal two days later.
Yeah, those two transactions are directly related.
(For those who have a broken sarcasm detector, those two are transactions are not related in any way.)
Anyhow, the big complaint from many of you is that, procedural or not, it sends the wrong message to Gausman and the rest of the staff when someone pitches well and still becomes a roster casualty. Some of you went as far as to predict that Gausman’s positive development could be ruined because of the yo-yo-ing he’s experienced this year.
A veteran baseball man once told me that if a young player is “ruined” because he was rushed to the majors or because he was brought up and down too many times, then that player was never mentally strong enough to succeed consistently in the majors. And I’d say, for the most part, I subscribe to that theory.
Still, I was curious to get another point of view about Gausman’s situation. So I went to an expert on fluctuating between the majors and minors and how it affects development: Orioles closer Zach Britton.
Two important disclaimers: 1. Britton wanted it known that he believes every person and every situation is unique. 2. He wasn’t in the room when Gausman was sent down Friday, so he doesn’t have any direct knowledge of the conversations.
That said, Britton spent three different stints with the Orioles each of the past two seasons. When I brought up my angle to him, he just laughed: “Yeah, I’ve been there.”
Here is his take on being the victim of a roster crunch: “I think it is disappointing as a player because you want to be with the team and [Gausman] is coming off some really, really good outings. So I think it is disappointing more than anything because you want to be with the team and stay on a routine and not have to go back down.
“But when you have [minor league] options, those types of things are kind of what we do as an organization. We maneuver our roster to our advantage, which is nice.
“I think he has a good idea what his plan is going to be. And when you get down to Norfolk, you go, ‘Hey, I’ll just go about my business the right way, do what I was doing before and Ill be back in the big leagues.’ Most the time there is [a plan].
“I remember getting sent down one time after … one of my best starts in the big leagues and they were like, ‘You are going to come back here and start. It’s just the way it was lined up, we had to do that.’ And that makes it a little easier. But at the same time, you just want to be with the team. That’s what you miss the most, being around the guys.”
I asked Britton whether he thought the shuffling can negatively affect a pitcher’s approach, routine or rhythm. He dismissed the idea that going back and forth to Triple-A can hurt a player physically. If you have the physical ability to play in the majors, being away from that competition for days or weeks may be a bit of a hindrance, but talent eventually shines through.
As for the mental side, though, Britton said there is a danger that a player can get so frustrated with the majors-minors roller coaster that he loses his focus. Again, Britton said, the good ones will likely overcome that.
“It can [affect you mentally] if you let it. I think more than anything [a problem] would be in the mental approach. There’s not anything physical it’s going to mess up. [Gausman has] got the ability as long as his head is in the right place: He goes down and throws a bullpen and does whatever he has to do. And if he treats it the right way, he should be fine. It’s just how you approach it mentally.”