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Orioles baseball: Top prospect Kevin Gausman gets his first taste of majors

Kevin Gausman, above in an intrasquad game last Thursday, had his share of struggles facing big league hitters for the first time Sunday, but managed to impress nonetheless. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Kevin Gausman began warming up in the fifth inning of Baltimore’s Grapefruit League road opener against the Toronto Blue Jays.

He was scheduled to make his Orioles debut, but he didn’t know when he’d receive the call to enter the game from the dugout. Meanwhile, Manager Buck Showalter internally wrestled with what would be the best time to bring the 22-year-old first-round pick into the spotlight.

“I was more excited than anything,” Gausman said. “I didn’t really know what was going to happen. . . . I didn’t really know. I was kind of just anxious and I wanted to get out there.”

So in an uncertain moment, Gausman went to what seemed routine: Start throwing.

Finally in the eighth inning, with the Orioles clutching to a two-run lead, Gausman — the Orioles’ top selection (No. 4 overall) in last June’s draft out of LSU — strolled to the mound in front of 3,802 to live out the first major milestone of his career.

The Orioles showed a glance of Gausman on Thursday with a four-out perfect inning in an intrasquad game, but this was different — his first taste of competition in big league spring training.

“That’s why I love spring training, because you see the young guys,” Orioles pitching coach Rick Adair. “Everybody knows about their abilities. Let’s see how they react and then, three or four years from now when they’re in the big leagues doing well, you kind of remind them of what it was like their first time. Then those guys take the younger guys under their wings. It’s fun to watch.”

Almost immediately, attention shifted to the scoreboard at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, where the stadium radar gun showed speed readings worthy of the top prospect Gausman is. His fastball sat at 96-97 mph. His topped out at 98 for two pitches.

Gausman had his share of struggles — he allowed one run, issued two walks and yielded a double in 12 / 3 relief innings — but the afternoon held a memory the right-hander won’t forget.

“It was good,” Gausman said. “I felt good. I was a little amped up there at the start. Obviously, I should be. It was kind of a big highlight in my life, so it was kind of cool.”

More impressive than his velocity was the effect of his change-up, which dipped to 82 mph, went to 86 and tinkered with the corners.

“I’m more impressed with Gaus’s offspeed stuff and where he was missing at,” Showalter said. “The velocity stuff just plays into it.”

Said Gausman: “My change-up was like it is all the time. It felt great. It was coming out of my hand real easy and had some good late sink to it. I was pretty happy with it.”

Gausman, who could be in a big league uniform for good by the end of the season, walked the first hitter he faced – catcher Josh Thole – on seven pitches, then allowed a one-out double to Ryan Schimpf, another former LSU standout. A sacrifice fly scored Thole, but he struck out Ryan Goins swinging on an 86-mph change-up to end the inning.

“He got squared up a few times, just enough to make him realize the level he’s pitching at,” Showalter said. “Obviously these were Double-A, Triple-A guys there at the end. Some of them were big-league guys.”

After an 18-pitch eighth inning, Gausman returned for the ninth and promptly struck out Jim Negrych on a 98-mph inside fastball. Two batters. later, after a two-out walk to Adam Loewen, Gausman was lifted after throwing 33 pitches.

“I knew that I was on a strict pitch count,” Gausman said. “They were monitoring me for a reason. I wasn’t too [angry]. I was more [angry] that he didn’t chase that pitch. I was pretty [angry] about that. That’s what I wanted to do there. I just thought in that situation, he would be swinging there.”

Like top pitching prospect Dylan Bundy did last season, Gausman will see his share of firsts this season. Now he has another one out of the way. The Orioles are confident he will handle them well.

“I think, mentally and emotionally, he’s more mature than a lot of guys his age,” Adair said. “The way he handles himself. The way he talks. His aptitude. He’s good.”

— Baltimore Sun

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