Superstitious Gausman lives up to hype in IronBirds home debut

Orioles' top draft pick shows off array of pitches, quirky approach to game

August 12, 2012|Kevin Cowherd

The kid came pretty much as advertised.

Mid-90s fastball with all sorts of hop. A back-breaking change-up that had batters swinging 20 minutes early. All sorts of poise, the kind that comes from having a ton of God-given talent and playing for a big-time college program like LSU's.

Yeah, Kevin Gausman, the Orioles' top choice in the 2012 draft, pretty much dazzled in his home debut Sunday at Ripken Stadium in the Aberdeen IronBirds' 3-1 win over the Connecticut Tigers.

Working as if he had a plane to catch, the tall right-hander held the Tigers to one hit over three innings, striking out three and walking none.

With Orioles director of pitching development Rick Peterson watching from the IronBirds' dugout, Gausman threw just 30 pitches — 20 for strikes — before he was done for the day.

"He was just so-so today," IronBirds manager Gary Allenson deadpanned afterward. "He gave up a hit."

Gausman himself was in full no-big-deal mode.

"I really felt comfortable out there," he said. "My mechanics felt good ... it was fun."

It was the 21-year-old Gausman's second straight lights-out outing for the Single-A IronBirds — in their 4-1 win over State College on Monday, he went three innings and retired every batter he faced while striking out two.

All of which means this: if Orioles fans are this geeked about Manny Machado being with the big league club and Dylan Bundy possibly on his way there soon, they might have to pass out sedatives at Camden Yards when Gausman joins them in a few years.

"It's really special," Peterson said of Gausman's performances so far. "When you see a guy who can pound the bottom of the strike zone — and he was even up a little bit today.

"But that along with the swing-and-miss change-up? That's a fast track. That's a real fast track. The guys with fastballs [and] change-ups, they can fly through the system."

Which is why the Orioles felt comfortable giving Gausman a $4.32 million bonus after taking him as the fourth overall pick — and the first pitcher — in the draft.

That was $120,000 higher than the MLB-suggested slot for the fourth overall pick. And it was the third largest bonus in Orioles history after the $6 million they threw at Matt Wieters in 2007 and the $5.25 million they gave Machado in 2010.

What the Orioles have so far in Gausman is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. After he pitched in college this season, they'll baby him now, pitch him three innings every six days until the IronBirds' season ends.

But the O's are also discovering they have one of the great young characters in the organization, too.

Maybe you heard: the kid's a little superstitious. No, that doesn't go far enough. Calling him a little superstitious is like calling Jim Palmer a little chatty.

Let's see, where to begin with Gausman's quirks? For openers, he puts on his uniform socks with all the ritual of a Buddhist tea ceremony.

"I put on one sock and go get something to drink," he said. "Then I put on the other sock, take it off and go get something to drink. Then I put it back on. Then I put on the other one and go get something to drink."

If you're starting to sense that it takes Gausman about two days to get dressed, you'd be right. And it was even worse back in high school before the nippy springtime games in Centennial, Colo.

"We never had a locker room in high school," he said, "so I used to have to do it out in my car and dress before a game. It's freezing, so I'm trying to hurry it up, take [the socks] off real fast and put 'em on."

On and on it goes with Gausman. When he runs out to the mound, he leaps over the foul line like there's 50,000 volts coursing through it. This goes back to his childhood, when his dad told him the earth would swallow him — or he'd at least have bad luck — if he touched the chalk.

And his first warm-up pitch every inning is a rocket thrown from the back of the mound after he does a crow-hop over the pitching rubber.

"It's like he's throwing a javelin," Allenson said in wonder.

Ever see a pitching ritual like that, he was asked. Allenson shook his head like a man who'd just seen an elephant riding a motorcycle.

"Uh, no, I have not," he said.

Then there's Gausman's fixation on doughnuts. Or former fixation, to be accurate.

He used to eat a powdered doughnut before taking the mound each inning. And then he'd eat four doughnuts in-between innings.

Sure, they were mini-doughnuts. But they were still a nutritionist's nightmare. And since he threw 123 2/3 in 18 games for LSU this year — going 12-2 with a 2.77 ERA — he was pounding the equivalent of an entire Hostess aisle during the season.

But that's all over with, he says.

"My last four starts in college, I didn't do it," he said. "Now it's just what I'm feeling that day. I wasn't that hungry today, anyway."

When you pitch like this kid, you can eat whatever you want.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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