I spoke with Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman on Saturday afternoon about making his first start of the season this afternoon, about his desire to be consistent for an entire year and about changing his uniform number to honor a childhood hero.
You all basically know Gausman’s story by now, so I figured I’d make this a brief Q&A with the 27-year-old Colorado native.
Gausman was the Orioles’ first-round pick (fourth overall) in 2012 and made it to the majors a year later. He has pitched to a 4.18 ERA in 129 big league games (106 starts), but his overall numbers could be much better if he could get off to a faster start.
In his career, Gausman has a 4.94 ERA in 61 first half games and a 3.58 ERA in 68 outings in the second half. Last year, he was 5-7 with a 5.85 ERA in the first half and 6-5 with a 3.41 ERA after the All-Star Break.
Here’s Gausman’s take on this upcoming season and why he thinks he can be better early on.
Q: Sunday versus the Minnesota Twins is your first start of 2018. What is your mindset going into this season?
A: “I think my mindset has always been to win every game I start. I know that’s key, whether it is 6-5 or 1-0. Every game is different and every start is different and, obviously, you are gonna have days at this level when you are going to struggle and you’re gonna have to really grind through five innings. But, for me personally, the biggest key to this year and, really, my career going forward, is just being more consistent. And being that guy in the second half, really (being him) the whole year.
“I’ve always had a good second half and I did a lot this offseason to kind of prepare myself to feel more comfortable now. Whereas, I think as a young pitcher, you are always told to kind of take it easy early in spring, especially when you keep having career highs and all the innings limits and the things that come with being a young starting pitcher in this game.
“I think that kind of hurt me a little bit, to be honest. I didn’t go into the first couple starts the way I wanted to last year. Physically, I felt good, but, mechanically, I wasn’t up to par with what I should have been. Unfortunately, that happened. But, like I said, it’s tough being (a young guy). I watch other guys in the league, guys who are really established starting pitchers, and they are pretty consistent. You know what you’re gonna get every time they take the mound. So that was one thing that was probably the most frustrating thing for me last year.”
Q: Is it frustrating to hear criticism that you can’t put two strong halves together?
A: “A little bit, but, at the same time, you know they’re right. I haven’t done that. … In 2014, I’d say I was good in the first half, too. In (2015), it was still a learning curve year for me. 2016, same thing. So, yeah, I think it motivates me, more than anything, to get better and be the same guy every five days.”
Q: Given that, how important is it for you to pitch well Sunday to kickstart 2018?
A: “Obviously, I want to start it off well, but if I go out and don’t, I know I’m gonna get another chance five days later. So, I’ll try not to put too much into the first one, because if you have a bad one it can really get in your head. But, for me, I feel great. I had a great spring and I feel like I finally figured out my mechanics and where I need to land every pitch to be consistent. And that’s the biggest word for me. Just being more consistent. I know if I can be consistent every fifth day, I can be a guy that can throw 200 innings and be one of the top guys on our staff. And I think every one of us five can do that. It’s just about being more consistent.”
Q: Does it motivate you that many pin the hopes of this 2018 team on whether the rotation improves drastically?
A: “Yeah, absolutely. We’re not dumb. We know that, too. The years that we really did well and got to the playoffs, obviously, it was because of the guys behind us. But, at the same time, it was a lot because of us. You look at 2014, that second half, we were the best pitching staff in baseball. I think we’re a little bit better prepared than we were a couple years ago. I think we really have got some guys, in talking to the front office, two guys (Alex Cobb and Andrew Cashner) that they really liked and wanted to get. It’s exciting, bringing in those two guys. You know Cashner is gonna compete his ass off and so is Cobb. He is an established guy in the AL East. So, to have a guy like that that knows all the ballparks, knows it is hitter friendly, and still is able to go out and do what he has done, it’s exciting.”
Q: You switched your uniform number this year from 39 to 34 to honor Roy Halladay, the former star pitcher from Colorado who was killed in a plane crash in November at age 40. Why was that important to you?
A: “Oh man. For me, Roy was the first guy that I watched that was from Colorado that wasn’t just in the big leagues. He was one of the best. I think I learned pretty quick growing up, when we were playing tournaments and you had teams from Texas and California and Arizona, just their overall teams were better than ours. Their level of talent. And I think sometimes it can kind of get in your head.
“I remember telling all my teachers growing up, every time they asked, ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?” I’d say, “I’m gonna be a professional baseball player.” They would kind of laugh at me. That was kind of an unrealistic thing for a lot of people in Colorado. So, for me, he was the first guy I watched and was like, ‘Wow, not only can I do it, but he’s one of the best and he’s from 30 minutes from where I grew up. So why can’t I be (a big leaguer)? …
“More than anything, I just wanna be that next guy that kids can watch in Colorado and see that I’m doing it. And I think that’s why I picked his number more than anything. I don’t want people to forget about what Roy did for us kids in Colorado.”