When Kevin Gausman arrived at big league camp for the first time five years ago, it was no coincidence that his clubhouse locker was placed by some of the team’s veteran starters so he could learn from the club’s more established pitchers.
Now, Gausman, 27, is the veteran. Though he enters this season with less than four years of big league service time, he has the most service time of any starting pitcher on a camp roster that includes 35 arms and will likely grow as the Orioles look to improve their rotation. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette said Tuesday that the club is still aiming to acquire one or two starting pitchers, and that those are more likely to come through free agency than the trade market.
Gausman’s locker this spring is flanked by those of two of the team’s young pitchers — right-handers Jimmy Yacabonis and Stefan Crichton. And even though Gausman enters 2018 still searching for consistency, he is now the one who will be asked advice from less experienced pitchers.
“I used to be the one asking everybody where I was going,” Gausman said Tuesday as pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. “Now, they are asking me, so that’s pretty weird. … [You] just try to be a leader and do things the right way and hold everybody accountable. That’s how you run a really good camp. We’ve got some good veteran guys, too.”
But it’s a new role for Gausman, who early on developed the reputation of someone who would constantly ask veterans for advice. Now he and right-hander Dylan Bundy, who is coming off his first season as a full-time starter, are the Orioles’ only pitchers slotted into the team’s starting rotation.
“It’s definitely a little weird and kind of different,” Gausman said. “If we don't sign anybody to the rotation, I’ll be the longest-tenured pitcher on our team. So that’s kind of weird to think about because I really haven’t been around very long. But I’m excited about that. It’s a new step, something I’ve always done on every team I've been on. But when you're 22 and get to the big leagues, you are not going to be that guy no matter what. So I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Going into this season, the Orioles have just 10 pitchers who have made a major league start, so rotation experience is lacking — another reason the club will continue its search for a veteran free-agent starter through a slow offseason.
“Yeah, we’ve got a lot of young guys,” Gausman said. “We have some good arms. I’ve been here five days and watched some of these guys throw ’pens. I’m pretty excited. We’re pretty young, but we’ve got a lot of guys who are right there, just one call away from getting their shot in the big leagues. It’s kind of cool to look around and I’m surrounded by young guys and it used to be the other way. I was the young guy and now I’m one of the old guys. It’s kind of scary.”
On Tuesday, Gausman — entering his second of four arbitration-eligible seasons this year — became the last of the Orioles’ seven arbitration-eligible players to come to terms, agreeing on an $5.6 million deal with the team just a day before he was scheduled to go to a hearing. Now Gausman, who was planning to be in Phoenix to attend his hearing, can go into Wednesday’s first pitchers and catchers workout of the spring focused entirely on the field.
Gausman’s ability to anchor — and lead — a young staff ultimately will correlate with his consistency. Gausman has struggled in the first halves the past two seasons, posting a 5.05 ERA in the first half of the two years combined, including a 5.85 mark in 19 first-half starts in 2017. Gausman was able to right things in the second half in both seasons with a combined 3.25 ERA after the break.
For Gausman, the Orioles expect this to be the year he puts a complete season together.
In part because of his slow starts, Gausman began his offseason preparation earlier this year. While many arrived Tuesday, he has already been working out at the Ed Smith Stadium complex for five days.
“That’s one reason why I started throwing 10 days earlier than I normally do,” Gausman said. “I’ve thrown more bullpens before spring training this year than I probably have since my first year of spring training. So I’m doing things to kind of help my body to be ready for the get-go instead of having those first couple months be kind of rough and then get into a groove.”