My thoughts on the Kevin Gausman Conundrum: Minors, bullpen or status quo (and pray)? - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Dan Connolly

My thoughts on the Kevin Gausman Conundrum: Minors, bullpen or status quo (and pray)?

Photo credit: Joy R. Absalon

I knew what the answer would be when I asked the question Saturday. Maybe that’s the product of covering one manager for a long time.

Would right-hander Kevin Gausman benefit from a stint in the minor leagues?

“You can get a lot of opinions on the answer to that question,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “I have my own thoughts and we listen to a lot of people. And, if something like that was a possibility we were thinking about, he would hear about it (first). He wouldn’t read about something I responded to. But (sending Gausman to the minors is) always an option.”

Showalter has been around too long, and has dealt with too many players to speculate about a guy’s future in the media.

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I knew that. I knew he wasn’t telling us whether Gausman was heading to Triple-A before Gausman knew. But I also wanted to know whether Showalter – and the organization – thinks Gausman could benefit from pitching in Triple-A.

Showalter wasn’t going there, either. Too close to speculation. I’m OK with that, too, but the subject had to be broached.

Frankly, there is not an easy answer to the Gausman Conundrum. I know many fans believe if a pitcher is struggling and he has a minor league option, which Gausman does, you send him to the minors until he improves.

You make him work on his pitches and build his confidence, right?

But here’s the deal: Gausman is 26 and a big leaguer. Besides being on injury rehab last April, Gausman hasn’t pitched in the minors since 2015, when he was riding the Norfolk shuttle.

Getting demoted now is just that, a demotion. And though a 6.37 ERA in 20 starts may beg for that, what exactly will he learn if he’s at Triple-A?

If his struggles are confidence-based, well, maybe he picks up a little mental boost if he handles Triple-A hitting. But that still doesn’t mean he can handle big leaguers. And what happens if he gets throttled in the minors? Not a lot of confidence-building there for one of the major keys to the team’s future.

If it’s about refining his off-speed offerings, fine. But his go-to pitch is a 97-mph fastball, which will overmatch a lot of Triple-A hitters. And, once he gets back to the big leagues, his ability to command the fastball again will be the key to his success. Commanding it against free-swinging minor leaguers versus commanding it against selective major leaguers who can punish poorly located fastballs no matter the velocity is a whole different landscape.

And if this is about improving Gausman’s mechanics, well, you’d think he’d be better off working with the major league staff than a minor league one. No disrespect to Norfolk’s group – Tides’ pitching coach Mike Griffin is well-respected – but there’s a reason the Orioles chose Roger McDowell to be their big league pitching coach. This is McDowell’s job; in a sense, it seems foolish to send Gausman away from McDowell to try and get better.

An option, of course, would be to demote Gausman to the bullpen to work things out. You could do that. But it raises one of the same questions as sending Gausman to the minors: Who replaces him in the rotation?

Let’s not mince words here: If the Orioles had slam-dunk, no-question alternatives who were better, Gausman — and Ubaldo Jimenez and maybe Wade Miley — wouldn’t be pitching every fifth day.

The Triple-A Norfolk rotation, though, is a mess. You could get creative and stretch out a big league bullpen arm such as Richard Bleier, but he’s needed given how often Showalter has to go to the bullpen early in a game.

For every argument that Gausman needs to figure things out in the minors is the counter-argument that he needs to do it in Baltimore, especially if this continues to be a lost season.

So, I asked a question on Saturday, assuming I knew what the initial response would be.

And, also knowing that there is no easy answer to the question.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Mau

    July 16, 2017 at 7:33 am

    ARMageddon. They all get lit up. They all deserve to pitch in Frederick. When the starters actually start well, the closers don’t close. More often than not, the starters, ALL of them, start poorly. Is it an institutional thing, is it the pitchers, the framers, all of the above? Solar waves, Nibiru, or is it the Oriole ARMageddon?

    • Dan Connolly

      July 17, 2017 at 3:30 pm

      I don’t have an answer. But you are starting to scare me.

      • Mau

        July 17, 2017 at 8:46 pm

        Didn’t mean to scare ya. If the Oriole is the canary in the coal mine in 2017 then yikes.

  2. Bancells Moustache

    July 16, 2017 at 9:18 am

    If the Orioles were a contender this would be a more interesting argument, but they aren’t. This season is over. Anyone who says otherwise is delusional. It’s not as if Gausman is going to be the one guy who holds you back from a championship, so you may as well stretch him out at the big league level to see if he is salvageable. My prediction: Gausman continues to pitch for the big league team and continues to look bad until September, where he turns in a few good starts and gets everyone excited about next year. He then goes out in 2018 and looks terrible again, the Orioles cut ties with him, and he promptly wins the Cy Young and begins a first ballot Hall of Fame career with (insert NL team name).

    • Dan Connolly

      July 17, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      Stache: You win. You just out cynic’ed the cynic. I got nothing on you, my friend.

  3. Boog Robinson Robinson

    July 16, 2017 at 10:08 am

    I agree with ‘Stache …. the season is over. Has been for several weeks. Nothing left to do but play it out.

    As for Gausman … frankly, and considering the alternatives, we’d be crazy to give up on this guy. Continue to throw him to the wolves for the rest of the season. As the cliche’ goes, what doesn’t kill him … I agree with Dan, there’s no sense in sending him down … or to the bullpen for that matter. The only thing I would do at this point, and as silly as it sounds, is to suggest to him that he go back to the goggles and mouth piece. Remember … this is the kid that eats powdered donuts for luck. Carnival logic is like chicken soup …

    • Dan Connolly

      July 17, 2017 at 3:32 pm

      Not sure it’s the lack of goggles, Boog. But right now it seems as reasonable as any other explanation.

  4. Liamandcarolinesdad

    July 16, 2017 at 10:56 am

    I’ve tried to defend McDowell throughout this awful season, and while I do believe that the players are ultimately responsible for their own performances, the common denominator seems to be Roger. I’ve read numerous reports about how he is great with the veterans but struggled to connect with the young arms in Atlanta. It’s not like we had any consistent veterans coming into the season, outside of Tilly.

    With that being said, I don’t think sending Gausman to Norfolk is going to fix anything, HOWEVER I’m also curious to see if he was sent down to Bowie

    • Liamandcarolinesdad

      July 16, 2017 at 10:58 am

      Accidentally clicked post comment…

      Anyway, I wonder if Steenstra could provide some different approach that McDowell isn’t providing. I like Griffin just fine in Norfolk, but Steenstra’s been praised time and time again by the young arms…something to ponder…

    • Dan Connolly

      July 17, 2017 at 3:36 pm

      I’m not sure McDowell isn’t good with young pitchers. But the reputation is that he is particularly good with veterans. But that’s usually the reputation with veteran pitching coaches. I really don’t think the Orioles would drop him two levels. But I do agree Steenstra has a good rep.

  5. Ben1

    July 16, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    more evidence that DD incompetence has destroyed the organization. We ha e no one to fill in the rotation. no quality in minors. No trade bait to trade for a quality starter.

    • Mau

      July 16, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      Let Mancini pitch. Could it be worse?

    • Dan Connolly

      July 17, 2017 at 3:37 pm

      Well, I didn’t think Mancini could play left and he’s done that, so …

  6. garyintheloo

    July 16, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    Well Dan and Boog we’re into the third day of our ten game stretch of do the Os buy or sell and it isn’t looking good. I missed the start of each of the Cub games and we were trailing by eight, seven and now six runs though perhaps trending in the right direction. This is the definition of insanity with no cake for next season either. Make your best trades now or next winter, send the Norfolk shuttle to the off ramp and bring on your spring training roster because if nothing else it should be more interesting. Nelson Rockefeller once promised that the Long Island Railroad would be the best in the country in 60 days and the Daily News ran a countdown. Let’s get started: seven games until we get off the pot or use it.

    • Dan Connolly

      July 17, 2017 at 3:38 pm

      I’ll get ya a spot on the warehouse.

  7. Apple1972

    July 16, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Trade Britton to LA and see how Gausman does in a closer role. Pitching one inning while just being allowed to air it out without thinking about it could be a good thing for him. He doesn’t have quality secondary pitches to remain a starting option for the Orioles. Hopefully you’d get a starter from LA that could replace KG in the rotation, maybe Walker Buehler or Brock Stewart.

    • Dan Connolly

      July 17, 2017 at 3:40 pm

      No. It’s way too early to give up on Gausman as a starter. He’s had it rough this year. But he’s been successful before that.

      • Apple1972

        July 17, 2017 at 4:40 pm

        I see regression. He’ll be 27 in January (not that that’s old) but he’s at the point where time is running out whether he can be a consistently serviceable starter for this team. Secondary pitches are the least of his worries at this point because now he can’t even locate his fastball. Hopefully he figures it out on the fly or during what I would hope to be a very productive and reflective off-season, because at this point, the O’s, and the fans can’t endure a 2018 that mirrors his abysmal performance this year. Only time will tell. Remember, Britton was only 25 or 26 when he made the switch to reliever and as I stated, January is coming quickly.

  8. Raymo

    July 18, 2017 at 10:18 pm

    One more reason not to send him to the minors… for some incomprehensible reason they use a different ball down there.

    They should take all the balls they throw out of MLB games unnecessarily, and send them to the triple A teams.

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