Orioles: Gausman adjusts to bullpen

BALTIMORE - There are six lockers in the Baltimore Orioles clubhouse disconnected from the rest, sitting as an island just inside the entrance of the large room.
All six are occupied by players who were either September call-ups or promoted to the majors shortly before the rosters expanded. There's Chris Dickerson, Steve Clevenger, Mike Belfiore, Steve Johnson and Jonathan Schoop.
And then there's a player who is facing higher expectations than all of them - Kevin Gausman.
The 22-year-old, 2012 first-round pick out of Louisiana State University is expected to be a top-of-the-rotation starter. He is expected to fan batters with his fastball that sits in the high-90s. And he's expected to, along with fellow first-rounder Dylan Bundy, help stabilize an Orioles rotation that has been shaky for the better part of the last decade.
But for the past month, Gausman has been a reliever in a Baltimore bullpen that features several former starters, including Tommy Hunter and Brian Matusz. Gausman said his time as a reliever has been helpful, and he's heard the same from Hunter, who has gone through multiple stints as a starter and reliever.
"He said it was huge to him to have the success that he had as a reliever," Gausman said. "Then, when he became a starter he was able to reach in his back pocket when there's guys on second and third with one out, because that's when you come in as a reliever. You go in with that mentality that you've been there before and that you know what to expect. You know how to dig deep and get out of that situation unscathed."
Now, Gausman is hoping the same can work for him.
2013 was a year of many firsts for the right-hander. Last season, after he was drafted in June, Gausman pitched higher than High Class-A Frederick just once.
This year, he got consistent starts at Class-AA Bowie, spent some time in the rotation at Class-AAA Norfolk, and got to pitch in the majors for the first time.
"It's the first time he's ever pitched in a five-man rotation," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "It's the first time he's ever been active pitching for this long. It's the first time he's done some things out of the bullpen."
But it wasn't until after Gausman struggled as a starter that he moved to the bullpen. He lost his debut at Toronto on May 23.
It was the right-hander's second career start, on May 28 in Washington D.C. against the Nationals, when it really hit him that he had arrived in the majors, the goal so many young players aspire to reach but never do.
"That was when I was like, 'Wow, this is a big league atmosphere right here,'" Gausman said. "Obviously I didn't pitch that great that day, but that was probably, more than any other moment, the one where I was like, 'Wow, this is pretty cool.'"
That was the case for most of the time Gausman was a starter for the Orioles. He gave up seven runs on eight hits that night against the Nationals. He did the exact same on June 8 against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Overall, Gausman went 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA in five starts.
"These guys are good enough that it doesn't matter how hard you're throwing it or if you set them up for that pitch. If it's right down the middle and it's belt-high, they're going to hit it," Gausman said. "It doesn't matter if it's 95 [MPH] or 105, they'll time it up."
Things have gone smoother for Gausman as a reliever. He entered Saturday at 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA in 14 relief appearances.
The 22-year-old, who spent most of spring training in big-league camp but was still wide-eyed and in awe of being in the majors back in May, has now settled in.
"I'm not nervous anymore," Gausman said. "I'm not on edge or shaky out there. I feel like I'm comfortable on the mound and that's the biggest thing."
Showalter said Gausman may make a few starts in the Arizona Fall League this offseason. He added Gausman fell considerably short of the innings limit he and Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Dan Duquette had set for him this season.
The Orioles will have a lot of pitchers once again when February comes and the first reporting day for spring training hits. Some will have minor-league options, others will not.
Gausman will be there for his second camp, but he will have options.
"A lot of things have to shake out," Showalter said. "I actually hope we're so good he can't make it."
Gausman hopes he's so good that he does.
"I think everybody has to have that mentality," Gausman said. "Everyone should go into spring training wanting to win a spot. I think if you don't, then you definitely shorten yourself.
"I definitely feel like I can do that and I want to prove that I can be a starter and be a guy who's going to win a lot of games for the team."