WASHINGTON -- Highly anticipated Orioles rookie Kevin Gausman still hasn't appeared in a game at Camden Yards, but his education at the major league level continued Tuesday night just a short drive down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.
What has he learned so far?
Well, he found out in his second big league start that it doesn't take long to get up to your ears in line drives if you can't locate in the lower third of the strike zone. The Washington Nationals don't have the firepower of the Blue Jays lineup he debuted against in Toronto last week, but they greeted him with a string of hard-hit balls in the first inning, then punctuated that early onslaught with a long three-run homer by Adam LaRoche.
It certainly was not the way the Orioles had hoped Gausman (0-2) would follow up the mixed results he got at Rogers Centre on Thursday, but nobody said this was going to be easy. And, regardless of what you may have heard or assumed, nobody knows exactly what to expect at this point from a kid who was pitching at LSU a year ago.
The only thing that apparently is clear is that Gausman will stick around to make at least one more start.
“There are nights when guys who have been here for awhile have their struggles,'' manager Buck Showalter said. “Pitching in the big leagues is hard. He's got the talent to do it and eventually he will. I look forward to it being the next time out. He knows that mistakes get magnified here, but it's part of the process.”
Gausman didn't shy away from the strike zone after that rocky first inning and held the Nats in check until the Orioles chipped away at the early deficit, but his evening unraveled when Tyler Moore and Roger Bernadina — who won't soon be mistaken for Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder — launched back-to-back moon shots as the Nats broke the game open with four runs in the fourth.
Tuesday night's game included the added intrigue of another young starter making his major league debut. Washington's Nate Karns did not come with quite the same buildup as Gausman, but he hammered the strike zone and held his share of the stage just a bit longer. Both had their share of mistake pitches, but you have to remember that they arrived here with a total of one start above Double-A.
“I knew it was going to be a jump and there's going to be learning curves,'' Gausman said. “That's what I'm trying to look at it as, something where hopefully all this can make me better.”
No doubt, Gausman's 11.00 ERA after two starts will spawn some debate about the appropriateness of bringing him up so soon and the prudence of sending him out against the imposing Detroit Tigers on Sunday. There's a case to be made for sending him back and giving the ball to Steve Johnson or Jake Arrieta before he takes any more lumps, but that doesn't mean bringing him up was necessarily a mistake.
The Orioles were not planning on bringing up Gausman this quickly, but necessity reared its ugly head at the same time he was validating the organizational opinion that his maturity and competitive IQ were ready for prime time. That, and the opportunity to pair him with a talented young catcher in Matt Wieters who could identify with the hurry and the hype, made it easy to justify.
“We felt like he was going to impact us at some point after watching him last year, and that's one of the reasons why we carried him for so long in the spring, exposing him to as much as possible,” Showalter said. “Matt has some things in common with him, going through a lot of the hoopla, first-round pick and all that. I don't think he has quite the weight on his shoulders that Matt had coming in here. ... He's in good hands.”
The only question is whether he'll be in them much longer.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.