At this point of the season, it’s all about finding moral victories for the Baltimore Orioles. Though the team is on the fringes of Wild Card contention, make no mistake, this is a team headed in the wrong direction. The hitters are swinging at everything (what else is new?), the starting pitching continues to go belly-up, even Zach Britton and Darren O’Day have melted down, and Manny Machado of all people has made crucial errors.
There’s been one bright spot the last month, though, and that’s been Kevin Gausman.
Though the Orioles would eventually succumb to the Texas Rangers and Cole Hamels last night 4-1, Gausman showed significant signs of development. All year, it’s been fastball, fastball, fastball from the former first round pick and future of the rotation. Last night, Gausman did not have his best fastball. For whatever reason, the usual 96 mph cruising velocity turned into 94. Miracle of miracles, Matt Wieters began calling Gausman’s changeup and breaking ball with regularity. Finally, Gausman looked like a pitcher rather than a thrower.
Ultimately, Gausman was done in by two home runs. The Rangers scored another run after a perfectly executed hit-and-run turned a double-play grounder into a single to right. The final Rangers’ run came on Gausman’s final pitch as Steve Pearce could not get to a fly ball off the bat of Delino DeShields. A more competent outfielder would have gotten to that ball, which would have given Gausman a fourth consecutive quality start.
Kevin Gausman came on strong at the end of last season, and is seemingly doing the same thing this year. Prior to last night’s outing, he had delivered five good starts out of six. He still makes mistakes with his fastball in the middle of the plate. Both home runs he gave up to the Rangers, as well as DeShields’ triple were center-cut fastballs. Gausman’s fastball must be elevated to be most effective. That’s when it has the most rise. When he targets the lower half of the zone, while still thrown with good velocity, his fastball tends to flatten out. Armed with more than a fastball, as he was last night, Gausman’s best pitch becomes even more of a weapon.
The Orioles have jerked their future ace around the past two seasons, and it has hindered his development as a pitcher. He has yet to really gain a feel for his breaking ball, but threw a few good ones against Texas. Gausman’s breaking ball is “slurvy,” and to be more effective, he needs it to trend more towards a slider with better velocity and sharper break. Coming out of his hand at 78 mph, the breaking ball is easily distinguishable. Getting more slider-like action at 84 mph would do wonders for Gausman’s strikeout potential. The changeup is almost a finished product, and at one point, Wieters called for it three times in a row. Trusting that pitch and showing an ability to change speeds is a huge step in the right direction for Gausman.
Gausman needs to carry this momentum and confidence in more than his fastball through the rest of the season. He is trending in the right direction. Cutting down on mistakes and continuing to gain a feel for his secondary pitches will be the keys for Gausman with an eye on a guaranteed spot in the Orioles’ 2016 rotation.