As expected, the Baltimore Orioles confirmed yesterday that right-hander Kevin Gausman will take the spot of Bud Norris in the team’s starting rotation. Gausman made the decision easy by shutting out the Texas Rangers over 6.1 dominant innings on Thursday. Gausman’s next start will likely come Wednesday against the Minnesota Twins. On Gausman, Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter said the following, “Trying to run our five best starters out there right now, and I think Kevin is one.”
It’s hard to argue with that logic. In two starts this season, Gausman has shown the type of dominance the Orioles expected when they drafted him number four overall out of LSU back in 2012. His fastball has popped as high as 98, but it is in the continued development of his secondary pitches that Gausman has shown the most progress. In his most recent start, Gausman toyed with such notable names as Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre, blowing fastballs by them as well as making them look silly with the fluttering changeup which he throws using a split-finger grip. It appears that the days in which he struggled to complete more than six innings before reaching 100 pitches are in the past. His delivery now appears smoothed out, and Gausman is getting ahead in the count and finishing hitters off quickly.
Dating back to the end of the 2014 season, Gausman has pitched to a 2.53 ERA in his last seven Major League starts. In those starts, he has struck out 37 and walked only 12. With the likes of Dylan Bundy and Hunter Harvey continuously shelved by injuries, seeing Gausman’s ascension finally gives the Orioles’ farm system, a system that has struggled for years to develop Major League starting pitching, something to hang its hat on.
Gausman’s claim to a spot in the starting rotation comes on the heels of Bud Norris’s demotion to the bullpen. Norris took the loss in his first turn in relief on Saturday afternoon, but did not pitch poorly. However, for a team knee-deep in a division title battle, Norris and his 6.63 ERA may serve little purpose other than long relief. Norris has been burned repeatedly by the home run ball this year, most recently allowing four in six innings to the Rangers. Until he proves otherwise, Norris cannot be trusted to pitch effectively beyond the seventh inning.
The Orioles had toyed with Gausman’s role all season. He was in a battle with Ubaldo Jimenez for the final rotation slot all Spring. Jimenez won the job outright, and the $50 million the Orioles plopped down for him no longer looks like a sunk cost. The Orioles decided to stick with Norris going into the regular season despite his 9.00-plus ERA in Spring Training. That decision has now come back to haunt them repeatedly, but after sending Gausman to the bullpen to start the year, the team’s top prospect needed to be stretched out before returning to the rotation. Gausman is ready now, and after much hand wringing and debate, I’m sure, will spend the rest of the season where he should have been from the jump — in the starting rotation. If the Orioles are able to claim their second consecutive American League East crown, Gausman over Norris could be the deciding factor.