Kevin Gausman earned a win in middle-relief earlier this month. Don’t expect many repeats of that performance in the coming years. The Baltimore Orioles right-hander should be logging his decisions as a frontline starter.
Drafted fourth-overall last year out of LSU, the 22-year-old Gausman didn’t look ready for prime time when he debuted with the Orioles in late May. His five mostly-bumpy starts weren’t indicative of his talent. Blessed with top-of-the-rotation stuff, he projects to be a mainstay in the rotation for years to come.
Gausman talked about his game — including his repertoire and what he’s learned in his first full professional season — when the Orioles visited Fenway Park in late August.
Gausman on his repertoire: “I throw a four-seam, a sinker — essentially a one-seam sinker — a split-change, and this is my first year throwing a circle-change. I actually just started throwing [a circle-change] when I first got called up. I also throw a slider.”
On his slider and non-existent cutter: “I don’t think anyone could classify it as a cutter. If you watch me pitch, it’s definitely not a cutter. I throw 95-96, so if I threw a cutter it would be anywhere from 88-92. My slider is 84-88. People will watch you pitch once and if a pitch happens to cut, all of a sudden you throw a cutter. It just happens that way.
“When I was in college, I threw both a slider and a curveball. This is kind of my first year having just a slider. The Orioles decided, when they drafted me, that they wanted me to focus more on my slider than my curveball. It’s the same slider I threw at LSU.”
On throwing both a circle-change and a split-change: “My split-change has a lot more action — a lot more movement — and some guys would just kind of spit at it. It became more of my chase pitch and I wanted a changeup I could throw anywhere from 88 to 91, and throw for a strike whenever I needed to.
“My split-change is a lot different. It kind of comes out of my hand with a different spin. That’s something I had to be honest with myself about. I had to realize that’s why I wasn’t getting as many swing-and-misses at this level as I was in the minors.
“The way I grip it is more like a split-change; it’s not a straight split. A real, essential split is just the splitting of your main two fingers. That’s really all you’re throwing it with, with your thumb underneath. My fingers are on the right side of my middle finger and my thumb is on the side of the baseball.
“My new change, I throw with one-seam, kind of how I throw my one-seam fastball. Pretty much, if you take the two-seam and just kind of rotate it… it’s essentially putting the seam between my two fingers.
“When I first started throwing my circle-change, I threw it with two-seams. I didn’t really have a feel for it, and it looked different out of my hand than my one-seam [fastball], so I essentially moved it over and it’s been great for me ever since.”
On his one-seam fastball: “I started throwing my one-seam fastball in college. If you throw hard, guys are just going to sit on your fastball. I wanted a fastball that was going to move a little more than my four-seam.
“I like to throw my one-seam fastball a lot. If I’m going away to a lefty, I think it’s a perfect pitch for when there’s a guy on first with less than two out. You’re trying to get that ground ball and it’s a pitch that’s going to go away from that lefty. I get some arm-side run with it. I also like to throw it in to righties, switching up four-seam and one-seam.”
On velocity, pitch selection and Matt Wieters: “My one-seam is anywhere from 88 to 91 and my split-change is usually about 85-87. The difference between my one- and four-seam fastballs is usually only about one or two [mph] off. Some days I’ll throw my one-seam 93-94 and some days I’ll throw it 96. It just kind of depends, and I’ve learned in the last couple of years that I get more movement with it when it’s 93-94 than when it‘s 96. When I first came up, I tried to overpower guys, but at this level you have to mix up your pitches.
“You also have to be able to recognize which pitch is the right pitch in certain situations. That’s one thing I’ve tried to get better at in the last year, but obviously, with Matt Wieters back there, you can pretty much trust him with everything. He knows the hitters. He’s been around here long enough to know exactly which pitch you need to throw. If you execute it, more times than not you’re going to be successful.
“I think Wieters is really good at getting to know pitchers. That’s something people probably don’t give him enough credit for. He does a lot of work behind the scenes to kind of learn you. When I first came up, he caught a couple of my bullpens to get a feel for what I had. He also caught me in spring training. He figures things out pretty quickly.”
On his mechanics: “I have to work constantly on not letting my mechanics get out of whack. My problem is that sometimes I’ll kind of hunch in and collapse a little bit in my delivery. That’s something I’ve kind of had to work on, but right now I feel great about where my mechanics are at.
“My delivery is pretty standard. I’m pretty straight up. I throw with a high-three-quarters slot and think I get a pretty good down angle. When I collapse is when my fastball becomes kind of flat.”
On his current and future role: “I made my debut on May 23 and made five starts. Then I got optioned down, and when I came back up again I was out of the pen for almost a month. I got optioned out again and started in Norfolk. Now I’m back and in the pen.
“I think I’m definitely a starter going forward. But I know what my job is right now. I’m here to keep our main guys in the pen fresh. Giving them days off is huge, especially now that we’re getting late into the season. I need to do whatever I can to help us win games down the stretch.”
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