No one can say the Baltimore Orioles aren't afraid to make a bold move to stay competitive in the AL East.
Well, I suppose I might have said that during the offseason when the O's didn't add an impact hitter or pitcher to capitalize on the success of their improbable run to an AL wild-card playoff spot.
But manager Buck Showalter and general manager Dan Duquette are willing to take a risk with the young talent on hand in the Orioles' organization. The latest example of this is the decision to call up pitcher Kevin Gausman from Double-A Bowie and start him against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday (May 23).
In eight starts for the Baysox this season, the 22-year-old right-hander compiled a 2-4 record and 3.11 ERA. But his 49 strikeouts and five walks in 46.1 innings are likely why the Orioles feel he's ready to make the jump from Double-A to the majors.
"He has the best stuff and the most consistent control of just about any pitcher we have in the organization, Duquette told reporters, including MASN's Steve Melewski on Wednesday. "So, we thought employing his strengths for our major league team was the best way to go."
Adding a talented player who can presumably help the team win is the most important consideration for the Orioles, regardless of age or experience. We saw that last year, of course, when Baltimore called up shortstop prospect Manny Machado from Double-A in August to give the lineup a boost and provide better defense at third base.
That appeared to be a desperate move at the time. But those who felt that way likely hadn't watched Machado play, nor were aware of what Orioles scouts and executives saw from him at that point.
Machado looked like he belonged with the big boys right away, slugging two home runs in his second major league game and collecting six hits in his first four games with the Orioles. In the final month of the season, the 20-year-old hit .273 with a .716 OPS, five doubles, four home runs and 16 RBI. Machado also played well at third base, which was nearly as important to Baltimore as his offensive contributions.
Going into this season, the Orioles had no worries over who their starting third baseman would be. Machado settled the issue with his play. Obviously, Showalter and Duquette would love Gausman to work out as well and entrench himself in the Baltimore starting rotation for the rest of this year and many seasons to come.
The Orioles certainly need another starting pitcher to stay healthy and productive to avoid falling further back in the AL East race.
Wei-Yin Chen went on the DL last week with a strained oblique. According to the Baltimore Sun's Dan Connolly, that injury could keep Chen out for four to six weeks.
Jake Arrieta was recalled from Triple-A Norfolk after being demoted in late April, but will pitch out of the bullpen. Had he been a viable option, Gausman may not have been called up.
Jair Jurrjens was sent down to Norfolk to make room for Gonzalez after making just one start. He gave up four runs in five innings against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Recent starts have given the Orioles reason for optimism, however.
Jason Hammel had a strong performance Wednesday night, allowing two runs and six hits over 6.2 innings against the New York Yankees. Yet in his previous three starts, he'd given up 17 runs and 27 hits over 14.2 innings. Wednesday's start lowered his ERA to 5.37.
Chris Tillman has been more consistent, compiling a 3.52 ERA in nine starts. He's been the closest thing Baltimore has to a No. 1 starter in its rotation.
Miguel Gonzalez has been on the disabled list due to a blister problem with his right thumb. He returned Tuesday night and pitched well, allowing two runs and five hits during his seven innings versus the Yankees. Freddy Garcia had an encouraging start on Monday, also holding the Yankees to two runs in six innings of work. But how much can the 36-year-old hold up over a full season?
That foursome has given the Orioles four consecutive quality starts. But pointing that out is a reminder that such a streak and level of performance has been a novelty for Baltimore's starting roation this season. That obviously has to change if the O's are going to hang with the Yankees and Boston Red Sox, while separating themselves from the Rays.
If Gausman shows he's ready for the big leagues — and the team obviously feels that he is — the Orioles suddenly have a decent starting five. Even better, Baltimore could have starting pitching depth when Chen returns from his injury. T.J. McFarland and Tommy Hunter could also be called upon when needed, possibly giving the Orioles a luxury that most other MLB teams don't have.
Maybe, just maybe, that could be the difference in Baltimore eventually outlasting the Yankees and Red Sox for the AL East title.
Calling up Gausman is a bold move that carries some risk. But Showalter and Duquette guessed correctly with Machado and have similar confidence in this situation. Just imagine if the Orioles' other top prospects — Dylan Bundy and Jonathan Schoop — weren't hurt right now. Perhaps those two would be called up to help out, as well.
But if either of them appear to be ready by September, is it unreasonable to think that those players could be enlisted to contribute to Baltimore's playoff run? This team has shown it's not afraid to throw its best prospects into the deep end of the pool to see if they can swim.
Bringing back virtually the entire roster from last year's wild-card playoff team initially looked like a wise decision by the Orioles. Two months into the season, the O's are three games behind what's turned out be a surprising Yankees team. But if the front office either can't or won't make a big deal at the trade deadline to give the team an extra push, calling up their most talented young players is the only other option.
That worked out wonderfully for the Orioles last year. Will they enjoy similar results this season?