5/22/2013 5:46 P.M. ET
O's hope Gausman is missing rotation link
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
The Orioles are hoping to find the same magic they found last season. Here's your chance, Kevin Gausman.
He's all of 22 years old, which is ancient by some standards. When the Orioles summoned 20-year-old third baseman Manny Machado to the Major Leagues last August, the traditional thinking was that they might wreck the kid's confidence and maybe his career.
Machado helped the Orioles make the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, and a year later, it's impossible to have a "Best Player in Baseball" conversation without including him.
That's why the Orioles are hopeful that Gausman, the fourth overall pick in last June's First-Year Player Draft and the Orioles' No. 2 prospect, according to MLB.com, can help. After just 13 Minor League starts, he'll get the ball Thursday in Toronto. With the organization's other prized prospect, Dylan Bundy, injured, Gausman is the club's best prospect.
Gausman has a big arm and has not looked overwhelmed at any point. In eight starts for Double-A Bowie, he's 2-4 with a 3.11 ERA. He has allowed a lot of hits -- 44 in 46 1/3 innings -- but he has shown command and dazzling stuff with five walks and 49 strikeouts.
He showed plenty of poise, too, in Spring Training. In fact, he looked ready for the Major Leagues then, too. There was some thought that the only reason Gausman didn't make the team in Spring Training was that the Orioles wanted to conserve Gausman's innings and have him available for the pennant run.
If it all works out, that'll make for a nice story, but it's probably not the case. The Orioles are making the move now because of a combination of injuries and poor performances.
They're 24-21 in the American League East, probably baseball's most competitive division. They believe they can win it. They know they might finish last, too. That's how close the five teams are.
Gausman is getting this chance, because he flat-out earned it on the mound. That's how the Orioles operated last summer, too.
When the Orioles cut players during Spring Training, manager Buck Showalter looked each of them in the eye and said almost the same thing.
"Be ready," Showalter told them.
He didn't need to say another word.
"We've got some credibility in this area," he said.
The Orioles used 52 players last season, including a dozen starting pitchers. Eighteen pitchers got at least one victory.
The Orioles weren't burdened by big contracts or seniority. If a guy pitched badly on Tuesday, he might be gone Wednesday.
Norfolk Triple-A manager Ron Johnson became accustomed to 2 a.m. phone calls.
"Yes, Buck?" he would say.
"Who ya got?" Showalter would answer.
There was something refreshing about this way of doing business. Every player knew he had to perform to keep his job.
"Isn't that how it used to be?" Showalter asked.
Also, every kid in the Minor Leagues -- OK, some of them weren't kids -- knew they were auditioning, not for 29 other teams, but for their parent club.
The Orioles kept finding magic from unexpected places. Released players contributed. Kids contributed. When Baltimore went to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, it was a victory for the entire organization.
Dan Duquette, the executive vice president of baseball operations, did brilliant work tweaking the rotation. Showalter made it all work. So here we are again. The Orioles have already used 37 players, including 10 starting pitchers.
Their starters haven't been very good. They're 11th in the American League in ERA (4.79) and 11th in innings (255 2/3). Jair Jurrjens didn't work out. Wei-Yin Chen is hurt. Once more, Showalter is going almost series by series with his rotation.
Orioles fans have been anticipating this day since Gausman was drafted. They saw a day -- they thought it might be 2013 -- when Gausman and Machado would anchor the rotation and lead the Birds back to the World Series.
Looking at them from one angle, they're good enough. Machado has emerged faster than almost anyone thought. Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, etc., are among the most solid players at their position.
They're still loaded with great pitching arms, but so far, it hasn't translated into Major League success. Gausman looks like a guy with top-of-the-rotation stuff. And he probably figured he wouldn't have to wait long to get a chance to show it off.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.