The Orioles’ Kevin Gausman made his major-league debut Thursday night, showing the flashes of dominance that will make him a future ace but also the inconsistencies that remind us it has been less than a year since he was drafted, with just two wins in his professional career.
The tall righthander, a baby-faced 22-year-old whom Baltimore chose with the No. 4 selection in the 2012 draft, flirted with 100 miles per hour but also made a few mistakes in a five-inning, four-run performance that included five strikeouts, seven hits and two walks. He threw 89 pitches, averaged 97 miles per hour on his fastball, and at times showed sharp secondary pitches, especially his plus changeup.
The fifth inning was a perfect microcosm of Gausman’s outing: He blew away Toronto’s Jose Bautista on a 99-mph fastball up in the zone for a strikeout, but a couple of batters later, a 96-mph offering on the inside corner didn’t fool J.P. Arencibia, who hit a go-ahead two-run homer to give the Blue Jays the lead for good en route to a 12-6 victory.
The No. 26 prospect on Baseball America’s preseason list, Gausman looked poised on the mound, even if his command wasn’t perfect. He is, after all, understandably a bit raw with just 14 professional starts following his time at Louisiana State, with results (3.23 ERA) that hardly describe his true talent. His 62-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio is probably more telling.
Gausman’s hasty promotion is reminiscent, of course, to last year when Baltimore promoted Manny Machado—a natural shortstop who had played two professional games at third base—to be its everyday third baseman for the stretch run. The Orioles made the playoffs, and a year later Machado leads the majors with 21 doubles.
Calling up Gausman, especially when it could result in extra salary money down the road because he’ll qualify as a Super Two (presuming he isn’t sent back down), shows faith that elite talent will succeed, no matter how rushed the player’s development was. And it shows that the Orioles (rightfully) see themselves as serious contenders this year, so such a move gives them the best chance to win at a time when the rotation was floundering—its 4.73 ERA entering Wednesday night ranked 25th in the majors.
That Gausman replaced Jake Arrieta says a lot about Baltimore’s intentions. Arrieta has great stuff but the results haven’t matched that potential, and playoff contenders can only have so much patience. The Orioles and Gausman surely wish his first start had turned out a little better, but there’s little doubt he’ll make a positive impact this summer.