Searching for a third plus pitch, Kevin Gausman just may have found one

The day the Orioles drafted pitcher Kevin Gausman out of LSU in the first round last June, the right-hander said he agreed with scouting reports that labeled his fastball and changeup as pitches that were well ahead of the quality of his breaking pitches at that point.

That day, Gausman said the improvement of his breaking pitches would be a huge key for him moving forward.

“I think my development as a pitcher and going forward is going to kind of depend on that,” he said last June 4. ” I’ll be a fastball-changeup guy my entire career, but what is going to make the biggest difference is which breaking pitch I will decide to throw and which will be my bread and butter, and which one I may do away with.”

Gausman Waves Camden Yards tall.jpgThat decision was made last September and October during Orioles’ instructional league workouts in Sarasota, Fla. Gausman and the O’s brass made the call to continue to develop his slider and basically scrap his curveball.

It wasn’t long into those workouts last fall that Gausman was generating buzz not just for a fastball that was touching the upper 90s but for the quick and vast improvement his slider was making.

“I focused every day on that (pitch) and just never really had the chance to do that before,” Gausman said of instructional league. “Every day, I learned more the feel of it and it got better, and by the time instructs was over, I felt like I had a pretty solid pitch. One of the biggest things will be going to it in situations where before I would throw my changeup.

“Really, (it’s better) in every way. Last year at LSU, it was good, but it wasn’t great and didn’t have that late tilt you are looking for and you could notice it out of my hand. Now, I can make it look more like a fastball. It’s a pitch that to learn it you have to throw it a lot and get used to throwing it.”

As he stated the day the O’s drafted him, improving this pitch, which sits between 81 and 84 mph, will be big. Scouts already rate his fastball and changeup as plus pitches.

“It’s huge,” he said. “I could tell at instructs how awesome it felt to have the feeling of being able to go to another pitch besides my changeup. I had that at LSU, but knew that at the next level I’d have to improve it to be successful. I want to continue the development of the pitch this spring.

“I know that I need the extra work on it and it’s not where it should be. It’s about throwing it every day and making sure it gets the work both in the bullpen sessions and in the games.”

For now, Gausman will not be throwing curveballs.

“I don’t think I will. Me and (director of pitching development) Rick Peterson talked about that and he wants me to just focus on developing my slider for now,” said the right-hander, who turned 22 on Jan. 6.

Gausman pitched briefly for short-season Single-A Aberdeen and Single-A Frederick late last summer, and then worked three shutout innings with five strikeouts in a playoff start for Double-A Bowie.

Over 18 combined innings, he allowed 13 hits and six runs (all earned) with just one walk, 18 strikeouts and a .200 batting average against. After throwing a combined 141 2/3 innings last year between college and pro ball, Gausman said he has heard he will be allowed to throw between 160 and 180 innings this season.

He knows he’s got a real good fastball and changeup to use over those innings and now feels he can add a slider to that as a potential future plus pitch.

“Yeah, definitely. I think I will always be a fastball-changeup guy. I’m fine with that, but I’ve seen it (the slider) when it is good and it just needs to be more consistent,” he said.

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