Baltimore Orioles’ plan for Kevin Gausman remains unclear

The Baltimore Orioles could use Kevin Gausman as a spot starter when he comes off the disabled list. They might use him in middle relief, or maybe stretch him out as a starter in Triple-A. Whatever the decision is, it is clear the team is playing this one close to the vest.

“I think that will reveal itself as we go forward,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said after divulging that Gausman’s next appearance, as he continued to rehab from shoulder tendinitis, will be limited to two innings. Gausman is scheduled to pitch for the High-A Frederick Keys Tuesday.

When Gausman went down in early May, there was chatter that he would remain in the minors for the foreseeable future to be stretched out for a return to starting after being used exclusively in middle relief to start the season. Now, with Gausman slated to pitch only two innings in his next appearance, after throwing 6 1/3 innings in his first two rehab starts, it is more unclear what his role with the Orioles will be the rest of the season. Keeping Gausman on a short leash in Frederick could keep him available for a spot start this weekend with Miguel Gonzalez out with a groin injury. However, with Mike Wright and Tyler Wilson already in Baltimore, it does not appear likely Gausman would be needed to start.

Gausman has far more upside than both Wright and Wilson, and is likely the pitcher the Orioles would tap if Bud Norris continues to struggle. The team did not hesitate to take Jimenez’s starting spot away a season ago, and Norris and his 8.29 ERA could be on the hot seat. Without extended time starting in the minors, it is not likely that Gausman will be ready to take over for Norris should the need arise.

At this point in the season, it may be best for Gausman and the Orioles to stick to the original plan of using Gausman in middle relief this year. The primary middle relief options on the roster — Brian Matusz, Brad Brach, and Tommy Hunter — have had their struggles this season. Chaz Roe has been a revelation of late, but his future performance is difficult to predict. Gausman showed he has the ability to be a shut-down reliever in last year’s postseason. As the Orioles edge back into contention, that may be the best and most valuable role for Gausman on this team, but until Gausman returns to the active roster, his role will remain up in the air.

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