Luke Jackson and Tucker Blair exchanged e-mails about Kevin Gausman after the news broke on Twitter that he’d be making his big league debut against the Blue Jays in Toronto on Thursday evening. The e-mail exchange that you’ll read below was inspired by what you’ll see on Grantland from time to time. You can discuss this piece in the Baltimore Sports and Life forums.
LUKE JACKSON: So the Orioles just snapped their six-game losing streak thanks to a Nate McLouth walk-off homer against the Yankees. A frustrating losing streak, no doubt, but the narrative has quickly shifted, as the Orioles are calling up Kevin Gausman to start against Toronto Thursday, as reported and commented on by just about everyone on Twitter. Buck Showalter earlier on Tuesday was talking about Jake Arrieta or T.J. McFarland possibly making that start, but apparently that was just for the LOLs. In 46.1 innings at Bowie, Gausman struck out 49, walked just five (!) and had a 3.11 ERA. His latest start came at Trenton and he punched out 10 Double-A Yankees.
He obviously performed quite well at that level in a small sample and with the Orioles rotation being what it is right now, I guess the O’s felt that Gausman couldn’t possibly be worse than what they were throwing out there on most days. Gausman also likely has the best chance of any of those other pitchers (Josh Stinson, Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, Jair Jurrjens, yada yada yada) to actually make consecutive starts. I plan on being in front of an HD television Thursday evening and drooling after every changeup. Tucker, this is an emergency e-mail exchange. I NEED YOUR THOUGHTS.
TUCKER BLAIR: Damn, I really needed to get some sleep tonight. Thanks for nothing, Orioles. Not only do you snap a six game losing streak with a walk-off, but you call up one of the big prospects? Cruel…Gausman is more than ready though. He has been nothing short of terrific at Bowie, and this is with him working on refinement of his slider and fastball command. I did write two game reports on him, which you can check out here and here. Everybody and their mother has written a scouting report on Gausman, but I do have pitch charts in there, which help show what Gausman was working on. AA hitters simply cannot handle his 93-97 mph fastball and his quick-fade change. This combo was too much for the level, and Gausman could easily abuse it at times. With the slider being a little inconsistent at times, it did cause MINOR problems, but his arsenal is so good that he can live with the nights where his slider is off or he has a bad grip on it. I’m damn excited to watch him on Thursday. It’s a little crazy that it’s unfolding like this though, right?
LUKE JACKSON: Yeah, it is. I believe Manny Machado’s call-up was announced by the team on Twitter around midnight the day before he was scheduled to debut — at third base! It seems like Gausman wouldn’t be called up just to make one start; that would make very little sense. He’s joining the rotation for what the Orioles hope is a very, very long time. The Orioles are very likely prepared to let him work through the ups and downs of his rookie season — and he definitely will have some ups and downs. Gausman won’t have as much room for error with his fastball command or his slider, and that room for error will be slim in his first start. He’ll be facing a lot of home run hitters in a homer-happy park. What can fans expect on Thursday?
TUCKER BLAIR: Yeah, it is probably important to pump the brakes a little on the excitement. Like you said, he is going to have some hiccups along his journey. I fully expect him to flash brilliance at times (possibly even Thursday). I fully expect him to dominate at times. His stuff is just that good. But the command is and has always been the key determining factor in his success. Trenton and Akron are WAY different than the missile-hitting Jays. If you are expecting Gausman to come up and dominate the entire year, then you will probably be disappointed. There are still some scouts that don’t think he is ready. I talked to one scout at the game early in the year. But then there are those that think he is just fine. The thing about the majors is that they can catch up to that 95+ mph fastball and do damage with it. A lot of the times at AA, those pitches are missed.
To me, his success at the majors comes down to three things:
1. Command of his fastball: Being able to locate this pitch and not just blow it by. This is important and something he has been working on. He attacks the lower zone very effectively and he will need to continue this at the next level.
2. Lessen the pitches per inning: He will have some innings where he tries to blow everything by the hitter and it runs his pitch count up. It is one thing that he could have had more time to work on at AA. He’s still learning how to pitch and not just be a thrower.
3. Slider crispness and command: As mentioned before, this pitch is inconsistent and sometimes it does not have the bite that is intended. This is just a work in progress and will get better with time. But that might not happen right away and he will now have to learn on the fly against the best hitters in the world.
Overall, he is going to be exciting to watch, but just remember that he is young and still working on many aspects of pitching. I think the interesting aspect of him getting called up is the potential contract ramifications. This now affects his super 2 status and arbitration clock.
LUKE JACKSON: That’s good stuff. I’ve only seen him once — a three-inning stint in Aberdeen last summer — and you’ve seen him a lot more than that. (Listen to Tucker, y’all.) With Gausman’s promotion and Gonzalez looking good Tuesday night against the Yankees, that gives the rotation a badly-needed infusion of talent. Gonzalez showed crisp stuff against New York — a fastball that touched 93 along a swing and miss splitter — and Gausman obviously provides monster stuff. Chris Tillman has been good for the O’s and while Jason Hammel has not, he’ll get every opportunity to figure it out (that’s a topic for another day — sigh). So you’ll have those four and Freddy Garcia keeping Wei-Yin Chen’s seat warm. (Related: please come back ASAP, Wei-Yin.)
The O’s will also have to make a couple of roster moves to accommodate Gausman’s arrival. They’ll need to send someone down to the minors from their 25-man roster (Jake Arrieta seems like the most logical move). They’ll also have to clear a space on the 40-man. I don’t see any more obvious 60-day DL candidates, so perhaps they DFA someone. We’ll see.
The bottom line is that Gausman provides a better chance for stability than the pitchers that they were shuffling in and out. I’ve written about the Orioles’ willingness and propensity to shuffle anyone and everyone through their rotation and Triple-A, but I’m sure they would prefer stability to what they’ve been doing.
TUCKER BLAIR: Yeah, Gausman and Gonzalez arriving and returning is obviously huge in terms of stability. It wouldn’t shock me to see someone like Alex Burnett or Josh Stinson gets DFA’d. I refuse to acknowledge that Freddy Garcia somehow mustered together two half-decent starts for the Orioles. It was just last year that we saw THIS. But as we have seen, Dan Duquette is a kitchen sink guru. He will churn and burn a roster from AA, AAA to MLB like no other. It’s not exciting, but maybe…just maybe… it is effective enough to continue the Orioles’ success. All I know is that Kevin Gausman’s call-up is happening at an awfully convenient time. Let’s hope he makes the most of it.