Kevin Gausman clearly stakes claim to spot in Orioles’ rotation

If the demand for Kevin Gausman in the Baltimore Orioles’ starting rotation was not already at a fever pitch in the city of Baltimore, it certainly is now. Making a spot start Thursday night thanks to a weekend doubleheader, Gausman delivered 6.1 shutout innings while striking out seven. He allowed only four hits and walked two. That the Orioles ultimately went on to lose the game 2-0 to the Texas Rangers is beside the point. Kevin Gausman dazzled last night, and could not have made things more clear for the Orioles — leaving him out of the rotation going forward would be a huge mistake.

In this, his second start of the season, Gausman looked like a thoroughbred, not the skittish colt who took three innings to settle down in his last start against the Toronto Blue Jays. From the get-go, it was clear that Gausman was dialed in against a Rangers lineup that had hit ten home runs in the first three games of the four-game set. There would be no homering off Gausman for this loaded lineup. The tall right-hander was dotting his fastball on the outside corner and under the hands. At 96 mph with late movement, those locations are unhittable. With his 84 mph split-change thrown with regularity, and for strikes, the Rangers were incredibly off-balance. Just witness the first two attempts by Josh Hamilton. Both ended in weak swings at a split-change that dove away from the plate at the last second. Gausman even threw in his breaking ball a few times, a pitch he has often shied away from during his brief career.

Of the four hits Gausman allowed — two singles by Prince Fielder, a single by Hamilton, and a double by Rougned Odor — only the double by Odor was hit hard. The singles were well-located fastballs to good hitters. Odor’s double, which came on a fastball that caught too much of the plate, would have been caught had Adam Jones not been playing extremely shallow against the weak-hitting second baseman. The double ended up being of no consequence, as Odor was gunned down attempting to stretch out a triple.

After watching this start, there is no denying that Kevin Gausman projects to an ace at the Major League level. He may already be at that level, in fact. He touches 96 with ease, and can easily dial it up to 98 for a strikeout. His delivery looks smooth and refined, and he worked quickly, oozing confidence. The split-change, when juxtaposed against the velocity of his fastball should be illegal. That’s how good the pitch is. That he is now throwing a breaking ball for strikes is an added bonus. If there is one point to knock Gausman on, it is that he appeared to tire visibly as he approached 90 pitches, but he will build stamina when given more opportunities to start.

For the Baltimore Orioles, a team who has battled inconsistent starting pitching all year, injecting Gausman into the starting rotation for the remainder of the year is a must. The American League East is too bunched up to continue handing Bud Norris the ball every fifth day. Norris pitched three days ahead of Gausman and allowed four home runs and five runs in six innings, leaving his ERA at 6.79 for the year. Norris is not under contract following this season, and the Orioles have no reason to remain committed to allowing him to figure things out.

Gausman was given the chance to make his case, and could not have made it more crystal clear. He belongs in the starting rotation. The Orioles are holding onto first place by the skin of their teeth, and his pitching could be what helps put them over the hump. Buck Showalter confirmed last night that Gausman will travel with the team as it begins a six-game road trip to take on the Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins. Beyond this trip, however, his role has still not been confirmed, but if the Orioles are being realistic, last night’s start should be all they need to see to stick with Kevin Gausman the remainder of the year.

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