Fauber: Gausman could give O’s a boost

Last week I wrote about the stellar rise of Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, who was surprisingly called up during the middle of a pennant race last August and has since started to make a name for himself as one of the best young players in Major League Baseball.

Almost as if on cue, the Orioles made another bold promotion just this week, as 22-year-old right-hander Kevin Gausman was called up from Double-A Bowie to make his MLB debut Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Much like Machado’s promotion last season, Gausman’s arrival in Baltimore came much sooner than I had anticipated (although I figured to see the former LSU standout in the big leagues at some point this season), and his ascension to the majors was undoubtedly spurred on by the injuries to Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez and the poor showing thus far from the back end of the Orioles’ starting rotation.

I wasn’t fortunate enough to have the opportunity to watch Gausman’s debut live on Thursday, but I’m excited to see what Gausman can bring to the Orioles this season.

His performance against the Blue Jays was anything but great — 5 innings pitched, four earned runs, seven hits, two walks and five strikeouts in a losing effort — but it also wasn’t terrible by any means. And that’s all the Orioles need from Gausman right now.

Baltimore’s pitching staff was ranked 11th in the American League in ERA (4.38) and 13th in total strikeouts (318) entering Friday, and the Orioles have already used a total of 11 different starting pitchers this season.

Gausman doesn’t need to be the savior for a Baltimore rotation that has struggled for much of this season, nor is he expected to be. He just needs to be better than the handful of other fringe starters that the Orioles have wheeled out so far this season, and I think he is more than capable of doing that this season.

The potential is certainly there, and you need only to look at Gausman’s quick rise through Baltimore’s minor league system for proof of that. Gausman needed just 15 innings of work at the low- and high-A levels after he was drafted fourth overall last season before he was promoted to Double-A, where he began this season.

In 46 1/3 innings at Bowie this year, Gausman had a 3.11 ERA and averaged an outstanding 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings while issuing just five walks.

Gausman’s repertoire of pitches is electric, as he possesses a mid-90s fastball, a changeup and a slider. Several of Gausman’s pitches on Thursday approached 100 mph, but as he found out on J.P. Arencibia’s two-run home run in the fifth inning, a hard fastball doesn’t mean anything if it’s not located properly.

Gausman can certainly learn from Thursday’s performance, and his stuff will only get better the longer he is in the league. It will be interesting to see how patient the Orioles are willing to be with Gausman, especially with Baltimore looking to keep pace with the Yankees and the Red Sox atop the American League East.

It will be hard for Baltimore’s front office to allow Gausman to cut his teeth at the major league level if he struggles, and it is currently unclear how long the 22-year-old will remain in the starting rotation. Gonzalez is close to returning after a blister on his thumb landed him on the DL, and Chen will soon begin rehabbing a strained oblique and should be a few weeks away from a return to the rotation.

Right now it looks like Gausman will get at least a few more starts to prove he belongs at the major league level, and his presence could be just what the Orioles’ rotation needs.

If Gausman can emerge as a true front-line starter, and if Dylan Bundy can get fully healthy at some point in the second half of this season, the Orioles’ rotation may look a whole lot different come September.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com