Baltimore Orioles Tip Hand On Rotation Situation


Mar 10, 2015; Sarasota, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Kevin Gausman (39) pitches during a spring training game against the New York Yankees at Ed Smith Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

One of the large questions from the offseason and into spring training has been what the Baltimore Orioles are going to do about having six starters for five rotation slots. All along, the most common statement has been that the situation would likely in some way resolve itself, perhaps through the common occurrence of an unforeseen injury or something of that nature. But that has not happened, nor would anyone desire such to transpire.

Statistically speaking, and in terms of late season performance, Ubaldo Jimenez would seem to be the odd man out. But, of course, at $50 million, he is never really “out” of anything, other than the patience of the fanbase.

But some postgame remarks by Buck Showalter on Thursday would seem to indicate what may be the current thinking of the Orioles’ management about what to do … perhaps as a first option at this point in time. Concerning how Kevin Gausman may be used for the remainder of spring training, Buck said …

"“I might bring Gaus back shorter until everything shakes out. I want him to be ready to do both things … There’s a possibility for everybody. Really all options are open right now. We’ve got some time to make decisions, dealing from some quality right now. I don’t worry about it a lot because we’re picking from a number of people we like.”"

It really is a nice problem for the Baltimore Orioles to have, and it is something that has not been experienced by them in any recent memory.

But having seen the clear capabilities of Gausman to pitch effectively as a starter, and knowing of his upside as perhaps the very best long-term pitcher in the organization, it all smacks of him getting the short end of things just because he’s the youngest guy there.

Arguments can be made from varied perspectives about what is the best plan to bring along a talented young pitcher … about how to break him in with experience and a growing workload, yet without pushing him over some edge and into ligament-reconstructive surgery.

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Any other year, Gausman would definitely be heading into the season as a lock for the rotation. And there is a rational argument that he should be given preference for a spot—both for team success this year and in coming years for the Orioles.

But think about it this way: Chris Tillman and Wei-Yin Chen are going to be starters. And though Miguel Gonzalez has demonstrated effectiveness as a reliever in the past, the fact is that he is the returning starter with the best ERA from 2014; people forget that. And even though Jimenez is least deserving of a rotation spot, honestly, he has no requisite skills for relief (meaning, he too often has no idea where the ball is going when it leaves his hand!).

Beyond Gausman, that only leaves one other of the six starters. How about Bud Norris? He is not exactly having a stellar spring training camp. Quite the opposite.

Bud Norris is simply not very likely to go to the bullpen and be successful. In 158 career games, he has started 155. He relieved once in his rookie year for Houston in 2009. His other two experiences were painful – both for the Orioles in 2013. In one of the infamous blown saves of Jim Johnson to the Diamondbacks, Norris came on in the bottom of the 14th inning and lost the game by giving up two walks and a hit. He then came into a September 20th game against the Rays in the 16th inning, losing the game in the bottom of the 18th—a loss that dropped the O’s three games behind the Rays with nine to go in the season.

When you put all of this together, it makes sense why Gausman may start the season in the bullpen. And maybe it will be for the best.

If he does, he certainly should be used in multiple inning situations. Even if the starter only gets five innings (instead of getting knocked out early), and it is a night Gausman is available given appropriate rest, pitch the guy for three innings if he is effective at all. This saves the pen and keeps him stretched out at least a bit.

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Ubaldo had a very fine outing a couple of days ago. He’s only walked one in the past 13 innings. This is encouraging. As I’ve written before, I think over the next three years we are going to see very effective stretches from Jimenez, along with others that will drive us all mad.

All of this is to say that, even if Gausman begins in the bullpen in April, look for him to pitch a significant total number of innings for the Baltimore Orioles before this season is over.

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