Kevin Gausman Shows He Can Be X-Factor in Orioles' 2014 Playoff Hopes

Alex SnyderContributor IIJune 19, 2014

The Baltimore Orioles are hoping that Kevin Gausman is turning into the ace that the team so sorely needs.
The Baltimore Orioles are hoping that Kevin Gausman is turning into the ace that the team so sorely needs.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

Entering the 2014 MLB season, the biggest question mark surrounding the postseason hopes of the Baltimore Orioles was the team's starting rotation.

During the offseason, the team went out and signed right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez to a big four-year, $50 million deal, with the idea being Jimenez would pair up with fellow righty Chris Tillman at the front of the rotation.

Thus far, they have been the rotation's two weakest links.

The O's have solid defense and an offense that has the potential to put up big numbers every night. And while their rotation hasn't been awful (Bud Norris and Wei-Yin Chen have done a great job, while Miguel Gonzalez has put up respectable numbers), it definitely needs some improvement if the O's are going to make the playoffs.

That's where Kevin Gausman, the O's top young pitching prospect, comes into play.

Gausman, the fourth overall draft pick in the 2012 draft, started the year at Triple-A Norfolk after a 2013 season that saw him struggle in a handful of starts at the big league level and then later become a solid contributor out of the O's bullpen.

The hard-throwing righty made one spot start earlier in the season for the O's (May 14) and gave up five runs in four innings against the Detroit Tigers, though he was making that start on short rest. He was then sent back to the minors.

Gausman was called up again to face the Oakland A's when Gonzalez went on the disabled list and turned in much better results. In his three starts since he was recalled, his numbers are as such:

  • vs. OAK: W, 7 IP, 4 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
  • vs. TOR: W, 6 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 3 K
  • vs. TB: W, 6 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K

For those scoring at home, that is a line of 3-0 in three starts covering 19 innings. Gausman has allowed 14 hits, two earned runs and five walks while tallying 14 strikeouts, and he sports an ERA of 0.94 since June 7 and a nice 2.74 number on the season.

While three starts is a reasonably small sample size, two of the starts came against first-place teams. And for a young top prospect, putting up numbers like these over a stretch of starts is a good sign.

And while Gausman, has been very impressive overall, two things about his most recent starts stand out to me.

In the 23-year-old's outing against the Toronto Blue Jays, it was evident that Gausman was struggling to find himself out on the mound. Instead of panicking in such a scenario, the youngster kept himself composed, trusted his arm and his catcher, and was able to turn in a very good outing. He gave the team some innings, limiting the amount of innings that the bullpen would need to throw that day and helping to keep the arms out in the pen fresh.

Now, rewind to his outing on Wednesday at Tampa Bay.

The Rays were able to load the bases in the bottom of the first before Gausman even recorded an out. And though the umpire appeared to be squeezing Gausman with his strike zone, Gausman buckled down and struck out two Rays before getting the sixth batter of the inning to pop out.

Each of the instances I summarized above are the type of scenarios that show the maturation of a young pitcher who is potentially growing into the ace that his club envisions him to become.

In the case of Gausman, obviously the young pitcher still has a good bit to prove, but he has almost certainly cemented himself in the O's rotation for the foreseeable future. The O's desperately need a guy who can be trusted to turn in a great outing nearly every time out, and if Gausman is becoming that guy, then the O's suddenly become a much deeper and scarier team to face.

A solid yet unspectacular starting rotation would suddenly become a strong and deep rotation, giving the O's many more options when it comes to playing the matchups. It would also give the O's more to work with in their bullpen, as one of their current starters would likely be moved into a relief role. The repercussions of such a scenario would be felt across the 25-man roster, and they can only be good.

Has Gausman arrived for good? Only time will tell, but O's fans are now eager to watch Gausman pitch every fifth day.

Soon, the AL East could dread facing the Baltimore Orioles.