How long right-hander Kevin Gausman remains in the Orioles bullpen remains unclear, but it appears to be a good fit for the time being.
Entering Tuesday, Gausman had thrown seven shutout innings in relief since rejoining the Orioles as an extra bullpen arm June 24 after making one start at Triple-A Norfolk.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said placing the 22-year-old Gausman, the Orioles’ No. 2 pitching prospect in the pen is by necessity, and if the club’s starters began to consistently get deeper into games, Gausman would likely instead be starting in Triple-A.
But Gausman, who had a 7.66 ERA in five big league starts before briefly going to Norfolk, said he’s enjoyed his new role as a reliever.
“I think it helps more being up here and being at this level and just kind of logging innings,” Gausman said. “I think it’s kind of helping me to learn how to pitch at this level more than anything. I’m going at hitters more than I was when I was a starter. I’m being more aggressive, going after them and trying to get quick outs. I feel good about it. I’m still learning how to be out there and stuff, but it’s been fun.”
There’s no doubt that Gausman’s future is as a starter, but having him log major league innings and gain confidence against big league hitters has been valuable. The Orioles have also been down a right-handed arm since dealing Pedro Strop to the Cubs last week.
“That’s the way it used to be done,” Showalter said. “Guys cut their teeth in the bullpen and worked their way into something else. It’s been a little bit of a necessity thing because we really have no long arm right-handed and we got back-to-back left-handed starters [Zach Britton Tuesday and Wei-Yin Chen Wednesday] and you know that you’re always going to say, ‘what if?’
“You’re trying to balance what’s best for the Orioles and what’s better for Kevin’s development,” Showalter added. “That’s a constant, not a juggling act, but two factors that you keep in mind all the time when you try to do what’s best for all parties.”
The Orioles must make a roster move before Wednesday’s game to activate Chen from the disabled list, and Gausman is one of the few pitchers who have minor league options.
His role in the Orioles pen is a fluid one. He earned his first major league win in long relief, tossing 4 1/3 scoreless innings against the Yankees on June 28. His last two outings have been shorter and later in the game, including 1 1/3 scoreless innings Saturday, during which he stranded an inherited baserunner in the seventh in a one-run game.
“I think it kind of narrows things down where you kind of lock in on every pitch,” Gausman said. “As a starters, sometimes you can get caught up in trying to go a couple more innings and thinking about the big picture. When you’re a reliever you don’t have the luxury doing that, especially in tight situations. You have to think about this [one] pitch.”
Showalter wouldn’t say whether Gausman – who has a mid-90s fastball and plus changeup – could begin to get more late-inning opportunities in tight games like right-hander Tommy Hunter has. But Gausman said Hunter has talked to him about how he can benefit from pitching in relief, and Hunter told Gausman he hopes the team keeps him in the pen for now.
“We were hoping he was gaining something from it,” Showalter said. “Hearing those guys talk and talking about hitters and about situations. Sometimes it confirms that there’s not something going on out there that they’re not going to be able to do. Sometimes we put this on too high a pedestal, you think you’ve got to be perfect all the time. I think he sees the mentality those guys have and just seeing how the whole thing works. Part of the maturing process in the big leagues is understanding the whole dynamics of what’s going on.”
Gausman said he hasn’t received any indication how long he could remain in the bullpen – but he’s enjoying and making the most of the stay.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I think honestly it’s whatever they see me doing. I think I’m in a good spot right now. I think I can help the team. I think I have helped the team. And I think more than anything, I’m helping to keep those other guys fresh. That’s something that’s really important, especially in the second half of the year. I think it’s good that I’m out there and I think hopefully I’m going to log some really important innings for the team in the long run.”
Chen set to start
Left-hander Wei-Yin Chen (right oblique) is scheduled to make his first start in almost two months tonight against the Rangers. Chen last pitched May 12 in Minnesota, when he worked five scorless innings in a win over the Twins.
He’s 3-3 with a 3.04 ERA this season — the lowest of any Orioles starter — and faces a Rangers team that entered Tuesday batting .252 with 24 of its 106 home runs coming against left-handed pitching. Left-handed batters are hitting .250 against Chen this year, compared to .232 against him last season.
Around the horn
Oakland Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes was added as the final member of the American League’s squad for the Home Run Derby. … The Orioles are guaranteed a winning record at the All-Star break for only the third time since 1997 (2005 and 2012). … … High-A Frederick first baseman Christian Walker was named Carolina League Player of the Week for the week ending July 7 after batting .375/.423/.833 in six games. ... Right-hander Steve Johnson (left oblique strain) will throw batting practice in Sarasota, Fla., on Thursday. … Showalter said outfielder Steve Pearce (wrists) has pain in only one wrist and could begin swinging again soon.