29 August 2013

Kevin Gausman Returns

Yesterday, the Orioles recalled Kevin Gausman from Norfolk (temporarily taking Wei-Yin Chen's roster spot), and he's likely to pitch out of the bullpen for the rest of the season. (They still view him as a starter, and it would be ridiculous if they didn't.) The O's, perhaps unfairly, were expecting big things from Gausman when he was originally promoted in late May. He made five starts, wasn't very good, and ended up pitching some in relief as well (where he performed better). Still, in 33.1 innings with the O's, Gausman has a 6.21 ERA -- he hasn't been that bad, but he hasn't been good either.

So maybe Gausman will pitch in high-leverage situations, or maybe he won't. But he'll at least be used to eat some innings when starters don't last long. There are worse ways to use 22-year-old pitchers who need more experience against major league hitters. And it's not like the O's bullpen couldn't use some help.

It's worth wondering what exactly the O's were planning to do with Gausman this season. They probably did not want to bring Gausman up so soon, but early injuries to Chen and Miguel Gonzalez were a part of the decision-making. (It's also worth wondering how the Dylan Bundy injury affected those plans.)

To recap Gausman's not-so-storybook season up to this point, he started the year in Bowie (as a starter), was promoted in May and made five mostly underwhelming starts, was sent to Norfolk (where he started one game), returned to the O's in late June (making one long relief appearance and then pitching in three games for under two innings each), and then returned to Norfolk (where he mainly pitched in the rotation). I was confused at the time why Gausman was making relatively short relief appearances in June, though maybe much of what the O's did with Gausman this year was to keep his innings down enough to allow him to pitch with the major league club in September. He's pitched 115.1 combined innings between Bowie, Norfolk, and Baltimore, and considering he threw 89.2 innings in 2011 (at LSU) and 138.2 in 2012 (123.2 at LSU and 15 combined at Delmarva and Frederick), he seems to be on track to be just fine for the rest of the year.

A couple weeks ago, Gausman missed a start because of some forearm soreness, but he appears to be healthy and admitted that the injury was "nothing." So that's positive. And he's been working to improve both his repertoire and his command of those pitches. Here's an example, from a Buster Olney blog post in July:
Before this season, Gausman had never thrown a circle changeup. Instead, he only threw a split-fingered change, with the velocity reading about 10-12 miles per hour slower than his fastball. But Gausman soon found that big-league hitters weren't fooled by that pitch. He needed a circle change that would be closer in velocity to his fastball, aiding its deceptiveness.
That tidbit was followed by an anecdote of Gausman squaring off against (and getting the best of) Miguel Cabrera in June, which, though now not timely, should leave most fans with mostly optimistic thoughts about Gausman's future chances of figuring things out.

The O's, now 4.5 games back of Oakland for the second Wild Card spot after yet another frustrating one-run loss, could use some quality innings out of Gausman (or anyone, really). But regardless, he should receive much more experience against major league hitters in these last 31 regular season games, which should benefit him next year when he'll be a favorite to grab a starting slot in the rotation.

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