It is true that Major League Baseball has a problem when it comes to keeping pitchers healthy. It is also equally true that it is in the best interest of teams to keep its players under control for as long as possible before the salary explosion of arbitration. But, there comes a point when a team just has to go for it and allow its best young players to have the opportunity to make an impact at the Major League level. The Baltimore Orioles are at this point, especially after their recent splurge that netted them Ubaldo Jimenez and Nelson Cruz.

Those moves have pushed the Orioles back into the cluster of teams vying for a playoff berth. The Orioles are no longer that team on the periphery. There is enough talent to compete. With the acquisition of Jimenez, there is now starting pitching depth. With that depth, many believe that it should mean that super-prospect Kevin Gausman is slated for triple-A for more seasoning. That assumption is wrong, especially if the Orioles are serious about contending.

{Discuss Kevin Gausman on the BSL Board}

The only reason why Gausman could be in the Minors should be performance. At this point, a case can be made that Gausman is already the Orioles most talented pitcher. Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez will be the anchors of the staff, but Gausman can be the difference maker. The 23 year old right hander averaged 95.9 MPH with his fastball last season. Despite the horrific 5.66 ERA in 47.1 Major League innings, Gausman did so many things right that give indication of not only future success, but dominant future success. That future is now. Well, maybe just not right this second.

Despite the ugly ERA, Gausman posted a strikeout rate of 24.4 percent at the Major League level, while posting rates of 23.1% and 25.7% at the triple-A and double-A levels last season. In comparison, the Major League average strikeout rate was 19.4 percent. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, he posted walk rate of just 6.5 percent at the Major League level. This was, again, better than the Major League average of 7.9 percent. It gets better. He generated a 42 percent ground ball rate. His FIP was a much more palatable 3.99 during his time in Baltimore. All of this was done as a 22 year old rookie who made just 5 starts and 15 relief appearances.

In all, Gausman pitched 129.2 innings last season. That may be his only stumbling block in terms of becoming a full-time start right away. With teams very reluctant to add more than 30 to 40 innings from one season to the next, Gausman’s maximum likely innings cap likely sits at 150 to 160 innings for 2014. That leaves the question as to how to best utilize the Orioles organization’s best pitcher. As Orioles Director of Pitching Rick Peterson is fond of saying, “You can’t run a couple of short races and then tell someone to do a marathon.”

The Orioles have options. First, they could follow the St. Louis Cardinals’ blueprint. Actually, the Cardinals had two distinct blueprints. They began the season with Shelby Miller, their 22 year old prized prospect in the rotation. Miller made 31 starts, but pitched just 176 innings. The Cardinals were very careful with his innings, taking five or six quality innings over pushing him to the seventh or eighth on most nights. This approach allowed the Cardinals to have one of their best starters on the mound every fifth day, give them a chance to win, and allow him to go through a mostly normal Major League season. This was possible because they had innings eaters such as Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn each pitch over 200 innings. With the presence of the two and solid production from the bottom half of the rotation, the Cardinals were able to use Miller, keep his innings count down, and use their best pitchers. They did shut Miller down for the playoffs, a precaution and one they could afford because of the presence of 21 year old Michael Wacha.

Wacha is a different case as the Cardinals managed him much differently. Wacha began the year as a starter at the triple-A level. After nine starts, Wacha was promoted. He filled in for three starts and headed back down to the Minors where made another six starts. The Cardinals then promoted him for good, but chose to use him out of the bullpen for most of August before stretching him back out to make five starts down the stretch and another five starts in the playoffs. Wacha was the Cardinals’ best pitcher to finish the season.

It isn’t difficult to see either one of those scenarios playing out in Baltimore with Gausman. The Orioles’ right hander is just as talented as the Cardinals’ duo. He could be like Shelby Miller and give the Orioles a dominant presence for an entire season, even if his starts are consistently cut short after five or six innings. Again, five or six dominant innings are far better than the same innings from a lesser talent. The signing of Jimenez and the presence of Tillman give the Orioles two pitchers capable of throwing 200 innings. A healthy Wei-Yen Chen can give close to 200 innings as well. If Gausman’s innings have to limited at the Major League level, the rotation can help compensate for a few extra bullpen innings every fifth day. It can be argued that a lesser talented pitcher who have the same impact anyway.

Additionally, Buck Showalter has continuously said that the best way to develop young pitching is to have a deep bullpen. The Orioles look as if they are building that type of bullpen. The closer role may be a question, but given the depth of the organization, the Orioles should have multiple relievers capable of giving multiple innings.  With Brian Matusz, Zach Britton, and Suk-min Yoon all likely to be in the bullpen (and possibly Bud Norris), the Orioles have more than enough arms.

That depth also brings up the possibility of the Orioles taking the Wacha route. They can give Gausman limited innings at triple-A, then use him predominantly as a reliever in the Major Leagues before stretching him out to start at the the end of the season.

Either way, the goal is to maximize the Orioles best pitching asset. The idea that Kevin Gausman should be automatically ticketed for triple-A is foolish. It is foolish because the Orioles would not be fielding their best team. Gausman should have every opportunity to win a job and should be held to the expectations that he should win a job. 95 MPH fastballs are rare from a starting pitcher. That type of fastball with impeccable control is even more rare. Yes, his contact rates look mediocre, but those were in a short time and is a product of learning how to pitch. It will improve, especially with the presence of new pitching coach Dave Wallace and organization pitching guru, Peterson.

Gausman’s time is now. If he pitches to expectations, the Orioles’ chances of getting to the playoffs gets very real. A top three of Jimenez, Tillman, and Gausman can legitimately contend. The challenge to the organization is how to maximize Gausman’s impact while balancing his long term interests. They are already on the right path because they are one of the few organizations that does gives each pitcher a biomechanical analysis. Healthier deliveries decrease the chance for injury. Gausman already has that advantage over most young pitchers.

Fans and analysts should be expecting much from the young right handed pitcher. The only question is how the Orioles deploy one of their best weapons. Now isn’t the time to wait or to worry about service time. The 2014 Orioles have made moves that have shown that they are “all in” on the season. Now, they have to follow through and field their best team that includes their most talented pitcher. The talent is there. The time is now.

Gary Armida
Gary Armida

Orioles Analyst

First and foremost, a Father. After that, I am a writer and teacher who not only started my own company and published an i-magazine as well as a newsletter, but have been published by USA Today, Operation Sports, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball Digest, Gotham Baseball Magazine, and numerous other publications. As an educator, I have 20 years of classroom experience and am utilizing that experience in my current position as department coordinator. Wrote the book The Teacher And The Admin ( and operate that website which is dedicated to making education better for kids.