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)?

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.

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.

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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.

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