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Orioles pitching prospect Kevin Gausman handling Double-A learning curve well

BOWIE -- Orioles pitching prospect Kevin Gausman has hit some rough patches through the first few weeks of his first full professional season while pitching at Double-A Bowie, but the 22-year-old right-hander’s steady development continues to be more important than any pitching line.

Gausman, who is ranked the No. 2 prospect in the Orioles' organization and No. 26 in all of baseball by Baseball America, will enter his fifth start of the season on Sunday against Harrisburg with a 1-2 record and a 4.74 ERA and has allowed four or more earned runs in two of his four starts.

But he’s throwing strikes at a 71.3 percent clip, has 21 strikeouts to just one walk and has a groundball-to-flyout ratio of 5.2 to 1, all good marks.

“I feel healthy, my arm feels great, my [velocity’s] been pretty solid, my stuff’s been there,” Gausman said Friday. “I think there have been some times when I’ve left the ball up in fastball counts and that’s something you definitely can’t do here. I think the hitters in big-league camp, they’re so good that I think they have a better approach up there. Here, they’re all looking for fastballs, so when they see one, they’re going to go for it. I think I’m getting better.”

Playing at Double-A is commonly seen as a proving ground, and Gausman said he’s quickly learning that there is such a thing as being around the strike zone too much.

“You want guys to not be comfortable facing you,” he said. “When you know a guy’s going to be around the zone so much, you’re not worried that he’s going to come in on you too much or make you chase pitches in the dirt. I’d say I’m trying to expand the zone when I have two strikes. That’s something I’m trying to do more of, try to throw pitches that are unhittable with two strikes and if they do chase they’re not going to hit it very hard or they’re going to miss. That’s what I’ve been focusing on. It’s tough because I have been around the zone and when you feel like you’re throwing strikes to every batter you feel like it should be easier than it is.”

That will get easier as Gausman continues to develop his slider to complement his fastball and a changeup that will play at the major league level.

When the Orioles reassigned Gausman to minor-league camp this spring, they told him they wanted him to work on getting adjusted to a five-man rotation – remember this time last year, the LSU product was still pitching in the SEC – and to refine his slider. If he can develop that slider – a pitch Gausman made tremendous strides with during instructional league -- as an out pitch that he can both throw for a strike and make hitters chase, he could be in the big leagues sooner than later.

“I know I can throw it for a strike,” Gausman said. “I know I can throw it 1-2 in the dirt and make them chase. One thing I’m working on right now is kind of a back-foot slider to lefties.”

“I think I struggled a bit early but I think I’m starting to hit my stride,” Gausman said. “And I think that’s good for me because it shows that I need to work on some things and just keep getting better every day. That’s the biggest thing.”

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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