SARASOTA, Fla. — When Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman was at the Ed Smith Stadium complex last year, he tip-toed through the clubhouse.
Though labeled one of the organization’s top prospects, he spent his first days in major league spring training with his mouth shut and eyes open, observing his new teammates and gauging who was willing to help a rookie seeking big league advice.
This year, stepping into the Sarasota clubhouse — as he did this week for minicamp — he’s much more comfortable. He has learned from experience.
“I think last year I did a good job of making sure I had a good relationship with most of the guys, so that when I did get called up, it wasn’t like, ‘Who the hell is this guy? He’s trying to take my spot,’” Gausman, 23, said Thursday. “It was more like, ‘Oh, hey, we want him to pitch well,’ and I think it’s good when you have that. You see it in the minors more than in the big leagues, guys kind of looking over their shoulder and stuff like that.”
With that behind him, Gausman can tackle his goals for 2014, which include cracking the Orioles rotation and pitching 200 innings, even though he said he expects an innings limit of 160 to 170 after he pitched 1291/3 1/3 innings during his first professional season, in 2013.
“I definitely want to make the rotation and I want to be on the team ... on Opening Day,” he said. “But obviously, anything I can do to help the team. ... I can definitely see them later in the year kind of pulling back the reins on me and kind of pitching me out of the bullpen. I kind of thought I showed I could pitch out of there.”
When told of Gausman’s hopes for the season, manager Buck Showalter smirked and said: “I’m in.”
Gausman’s first full professional season began in Double-A Bowie and ended in the major leagues. After a rocky debut as a starter — he was 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA in five starts — he transitioned to the bullpen, holding opposing hitters to a .205 batting average in 23 relief innings while serving in long relief and later in late-inning, pressure situations.
“I think I showed I can pitch out of the bullpen,” Gausman said. “I think that’s an option, but I think I’m going to be a starter for most of the year, and I can definitely see them doing something later in the year, making me a reliever like I did [last season] because I’m sure they’re going to have an innings limit on me. I’m sure around 160, 170. I hope not. I hope they just let me kind of go.”
After taking a break from baseball after the season, which included a trip to the Caribbean with his girlfriend and also learning to cook, he resumed throwing on Dec. 10. He said he’s added 12 pounds to his lean frame. He’s up to 195 pounds and would like to stay between 195 and 200 when the season starts.
“I’ve been busting my [butt] in the weight room and trying to get after it,” he said. “I think if I can get to around that 200-pound mark for the entire year, I think that would be a healthy weight. One thing I learned last year is, I started to lose weight during the year. And most guys usually gain weight, so that was something a little weird for me.
“So this year I kind of have a better idea of how to maintain it. August was a real month I had to grind because I had never pitched in August before. ... But it was weird for me because the skinnier I got, the harder I threw. It didn’t make sense for me. Maybe I’m more aerodynamic or something.”
Showalter has noticed that Gausman looks different, but he is more impressed with the new level of confidence that goes with having been through a lot of firsts last season.
“You see the body language, you see him walk around,” Showalter said. “You saw it with [Chris] Tillman last year. You see it a little bit with Gaus. Even Dylan [Bundy] has a certain pace to him right now that he didn’t have. ... It’s hard to put into words. Like I’ve said before, when you go into the locker room, there are times when you know you’ve got it going on. Sometimes you walk in and there’s a feeling that something’s not quite right. With those guys, there’s a body language you look for.”
On Thursday’s final day of minicamp, Gausman threw his first bullpen session in front of new pitching coach Dave Wallace and new bullpen coach Dom Chiti. Earlier in the week, he had a meeting with the new coaches in which they asked him what they could do to help him get better. Gausman said he has never been asked that.
“It kind of took me a little bit to think about,” Gausman said. “I just said, like, ‘Just kind of push me. I’m going to pick your brain and I’ll probably get a little bit annoying eventually, because that’s just how I am.’ I like to pick people’s brains, and I think some of the guys last year got a little bit tired of me doing that. And I just told them to get on me if they have to. I’m a pretty coachable guy, so anything you say to me, I’m going to consider. I’ll do anything.”
If Gausman can make the jump into the starting rotation this season and develop into a front-line starter the way the Orioles hope, the team will be much better off. It appears the club is still searching for a starting pitcher on the free-agent market, but Gausman said he hasn’t paid much attention to that. Instead, he’s focused on getting prepared for the season.
“Nobody knows who the starting five are going to be, and even the other eight behind them, you don’t know,” he said. “There’s nothing you can really control, so it’s really kind of a waste of time to think about that stuff and try to say, ‘Well, this guy had better numbers than me,’ because it’s all about how you perform during spring training.
“I think there’s a lot of things that go into that — the way you look the first day you come to spring training physically and mentally, and also what you did for the team last year.”Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun