FREDERICK — Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman was unable to reach the five innings he was scheduled to pitch in his second minor league rehabilitation start Friday night with High-A Frederick. But after his 3 1/3-inning outing – pulled just before reaching his 75-pitch limit –Gausman said he believes he's ready to return to the big league rotation.
Gausman, who opened the season on the disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis, struck out eight – including four straight over one span – and allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits while walking two against the Lynchburg Hillcats, a Cleveland Indians affiliate.
"Right now, I feel like I'm ready," Gausman said. "We'll see how my body reacts tomorrow and kind of go from there. But I think right now, it's kind of up to them whether I'm ready or not. I feel ready, but pitching in a High-A game and throwing 80 pitches is a lot different than a major league game. I will say that. Right now, I feel good, arm feels good. I'm recovering very quickly, so that's definitely a good sign."
The Orioles expected to activate Gausman after two rehab starts – he would be in line to pitch Wednesday at home against the Toronto Blue Jays – but he could receive one more start before returning.
"I think more than anything, I'd think I'd want to get to sitting down, getting back up maybe five times," said Gausman, who threw 74 pitches (43 strikes). "I know that was my goal tonight, but I think I almost had too many strikeouts. I threw too many pitches. I was trying to get quick outs.
"It was funny, [special assignment pitching instructor] Ramon Martinez said to me my last inning, 'See if you can get through this with 10 pitches.' And I think the first batter [in the fourth], I threw like seven or something. I ended up striking him out, a focus of mine is getting some quick outs. I felt like they were swinging early on and after about two innings they just stopped swinging, so that definitely had something to do with it."
After loading the bases three batters into the game, Gausman retired 10 of the next 11 batters he faced, including eight by strikeout as he mixed his changeup and breaking ball with his mid-90s fastball.
Gausman left the game with the bases loaded in the fourth against the bottom of the lineup, giving up back-to-back one-out singles and issuing a walk. Keys left fielder Jay Gonzalez's diving catch in the left field corner, which held Lynchburg to a sacrifice fly, saved Gausman a run.
Left-handed reliever Brian Matusz, who was making his fourth rehab appearance Friday night pitching for the Keys, allowed one run on two hits over three relief innings. Mixing his changeup, curveball and slider with his fastball, Matusz attacked the strike zone well, striking out three and walking none.
Matusz retired seven of the final eight batters he faced after allowing a solo homer to left-handed-hitting first baseman Bobby Bradley. Matusz has allowed at least one run in three of his four rehab appearances, including six runs in one inning in his last outing Monday at Double-A Bowie.
"I think it's really important to bounce back," said Matusz, who threw 33 pitches (27 strikes), "especially after the last outing, to be able to come out and pound the zone with authority and just working with Ramon and [vice president of baseball operations] Brady [Anderson] on some things, working on staying closed a little bit better and finishing through with pitches. It's a confidence builder and something to build off of."
Matusz, who opened the season on the DL with a lower back strain, was pleased he was able to get through three innings as planned, saying the outing served as "a step forward" in his return.
"The innings thing, that's important, but I think ultimately it's finding a groove out there on the mound, to be able to find a groove and throw all four pitches for strikes and mix and be able to pitch," Matusz said. "I think ultimately that's the goal, to get ready and be ready for when that time does come, to go to the big leagues to be ready to help the team win."
Barring the three minor league rehab games Manny Machado played in Frederick two years ago, Friday's crowd of 5,712 at Harry Grove Stadium marked the largest in the month of April over the past four seasons.