Outside of a couple of mistakes in the fourth inning last night, Kevin Gausman pitched exceptionally well against the Red Sox. Those two mistakes led to back to back home runs by David Ortiz and Mike Carp but they were both solo shots so the damage wasn’t severe. Overall, it was probably his second best outing in the majors so far behind the six inning, one run effort against Detroit. Even so, Gausman now sits with an 0-3 record and a 7.66 ERA after 5 starts.
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After the game last night, the club made the decision to send him down to Triple A Norfolk to get his first taste of Triple A ball. The team didn’t immediately announce a corresponding move, but early Friday they announced they would be calling up Jake Arrieta prior to Friday’s game. Anyone who has followed Buck Showalter’s bullpen management over the past few years can tell you that he pays close attention to the workload of the relievers in his bullpen. After the 13 inning game last night, he feels the need for reinforcements. Apparently the Red Sox feel the same need as they’re calling up Rubby de la Rosa and sending down Alex Wilson who threw two and two thirds innings last night.
Gausman hasn’t been great in his five starts so far, but he’s shown tons of promise and he’s had two good starts out of his last three. He’s also compiled a 20 to 6 strikeout to walk ratio over his 24 and two thirds innings. The problem is that he’s been leaving too many balls over the center of the plate and he’s given up seven home runs already. He also still needs to refine his slider as it hasn’t been effective at the major league level.
The Orioles have called up Arrieta even though he hasn’t been pitching well in Triple A. He’s given up seven and eight runs in his last two outings. He’s also not striking hitters out at the Triple A level. With his natural ability he should be dominating in the minor leagues, not struggling to get outs. Odds are he was called up because he was already on the 40 man roster and he hasn’t pitched since Sunday so his arm should be fresh. Considering the level at which he’s pitching I wouldn’t expect it to be a long stay.
There is a problem with the way that the bullpen is currently constructed; there is a lack of flexibility. Only Matusz and O’Day can be optioned to the minors without clearing waivers because they have options left. It wouldn’t make sense to send down either of them because the club needs them and they’re both pitching well. Technically T.J. McFarland has options remaining as well but as a rule 5 draft pick, he can’t be sent down without risking losing him either. That left the team with a choice of designating Strop for assignment, or sending down Kevin Gausman. Freddy Garcia could have been an option to DFA as well, but he’s at least holding serve at the back of the rotation.
I don’t think that the team should give up on Strop right now even though he’s struggling mightily. I think the Orioles should have given him some time in AAA before he came back from the DL to get straightened out but it’s too late for that now. Strop’s velocity is down about a mile and a half from last season, but he’s still averaging 96 mph with his fastball and sinker so that’s not the problem. His control on the other hand, is the problem. With a delivery that isn’t very balanced and includes Strop falling off heavily to the first base side, it’s difficult for him to be able to predict where the ball is going. That’s led to a 15.8% walk rate and balls getting left in the middle of the plate that are getting crushed.
But he still has an electric arm that the Orioles shouldn’t give up on. If he’s able to tweak his delivery to become more balanced, his control should follow suit.
Returning to the game last night, six of the seven relievers in the pen were used in the 13 inning game against the Sox. Each reliever except Strop whose struggles we just discussed came into the game for the Orioles. Matusz and Patton both worked for the second day in a row, and Johnson worked for the second time in three days. While Hunter only threw 21 pitches, he did work two and a third innings so he had to get up and down three times. Odds are Matusz isn’t going to be available on Friday after throwing 26 and 23 pitches the last two days.
Since this demotion for Gausman wasn’t really based on his performance last night, there is the chance that after Arrieta comes up for what is sure to be a tough, long weekend series with the Red Sox that the Orioles find a way to sneak Gausman back onto the roster before what would’ve been his next scheduled start on Tuesday.
Typically, when a team sends a player down to the minors he has to spend a full ten days there before he can be recalled except if the player is recalled to replace another going on the DL. However, since Major League Baseball instituted the new paternity leave list last season that can be used as another loophole to bring players back before their ten days are up. It just so happens that Miguel Gonzalez’s wife is due to have a baby any day now. Gonzalez is scheduled to start Sunday against the Red Sox, so if everything works out perfectly Gonzalez could start Sunday and then be placed on the paternity list so that Gausman could be recalled for his start on Tuesday.
There’s no guarantee that things work out so well though. If his wife goes into labor before his start, he would need to be replaced on Sunday with another starter which would then eliminate the Gausman loophole. In this case, it’s likely that Zach Britton would be recalled to take his turn in the rotation. Britton has turned things around over his last few starts in Triple A and has 24 to 6 strikeout to walk ratio over his last four outings. He’s also compiled a 2.16 ERA over that span. If Britton were recalled for that start, odds are he’d be sent right back down for a starter on Tuesday.
In addition to Gausman not performing great at the major league level, there’s also the service time game. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this was the main motivation for sending him down to Triple A but I’m sure it was down on the list in terms of the clubs decision making. As we’re seeing more clubs turn to their top prospects like Gerritt Cole and Mike Zunino at this point in the season, the Super Two deadline is getting close if it hasn’t already passed. If the Orioles are able to buy another few weeks of time for Gausman in the minors whether now or later in the season, they could potentially push Gausman’s service time past the Super Two deadline. Accomplishing that would hold down his future salaries by making him only eligible for arbitration three times instead of four.
Isn’t it fun trying to keep up with Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter as they shuffle the roster to get the pieces they need to build a winner in the AL East?