More on L.J. Hoes and Kevin Gausman’s third pitch

The Orioles’ decision yesterday to designate outfielder L.J. Hoes for assignment came as a surprise, considering how the former third-round pick was expected to compete for a bench role, if not the starting job in right field.

Hoes could end up clearing waivers and being outrighted to Triple-A Norfolk. He’d like to remain in the organization.

I asked executive vice president Dan Duquette about the move, which was made to create a spot for outfielder/first baseman Efren Navarro on the 40-man roster.

“Club has more depth at the outfield position with right-handed hitters right now,” Duquette wrote in a text message.

The list of right-handed hitting outfielders on the 40-man roster includes Adam Jones, Mark Trumbo, Nolan Reimold, Dariel Alvarez and Rule 5 pick Joey Rickard.

In his final start of the 2015 season, Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman worked a career-high eight innings and struck out a career-high 10 batters while holding the Blue Jays to one run. He threw 98 pitches and was denied a chance to produce the club’s only complete game of the summer.

Talk about leaving on a high note.

In his previous start in Boston, Gausman threw 99 pitches over five innings in a 7-0 loss to the Red Sox.

One glaring difference in the outings beyond the box score was Gausman’s heavier reliance on his curveball. He’s got a plus fastball and changeup, and he’s worked on developing a third pitch. As he explained last week, the decision came down to the changeup or slider, pitches he threw in college.

“All season last year, all I threw was the curveball,” Gausman said. “That was something that was different for me. I threw a curveball and a slider when I was at LSU and I felt comfortable with having both of them, but I think having one to focus on more than the other is only going to make that pitch better.

gausman-pitching-white-sidebar.png“If you look at my last start, my percentage of throwing breaking balls was I think the highest that it was the whole year and that was my best outing. I just think I need to throw it more and trust it. I didn’t really start throwing my curveball until about the last week of spring training, so I didn’t really feel like I got those reps that you need in spring training to go into the season. And then also pitching out of the bullpen, I didn’t want to get hurt on my third pitch coming into a key situation, so I just never really threw it very much.

“As a starter, that’s something that I really focused on, and it’s something that I definitely feel like is going to benefit me going into camp, having those reps in the offseason and early in spring training and bullpen sessions to really kind of fine-tune that.”

Gausman noted how he’s always struggled against right-handers, producing a reverse split. They’ve hit .275/.313/.450 against him, compared to the .246/.308/.388 slash line from left-handers. Last year, right-handers hit .278/.317/.526 and left-handers hit .227/.283/.360.

“It’s just because I’ve never had a lights-out breaking ball to put them away with,” Gausman said. “It’s a great pitch to throw, right-on-right changeup to guys, but some guys are really good at hitting them and I got beat in some key situations throwing right-on-right changeups. Looking back, I just kind of shake my head at some of the pitches I threw in some situations, to where if I have that breaking ball on some days where I feel like I do, that would be my go-to pitch in that situation.

“I feel very comfortable pitching against left-handed hitters and I really have my entire career, and that’s because I’m a fastball-changeup guy to most left-handed hitters. Having that third pitch going away from a right-handed hitter and being able to mix that in with my changeup, I think, is definitely going to make a huge difference for me.”

Tracking Gausman’s pitches has been a challenge. He throws two types of changeups, and one tends to be classified as a splitter by various systems and outlets. It’s actually a “split change,” as Gausman describes it. The other is a circle change that produces a little more velocity.

The split change pretty much involves only the index and middle finger. The circle change also separates the two fingers, but the ring and pinkie finger come into play, if that makes any sense.

The “pitch type” for Gausman on FanGraphs.com doesn’t list any curveballs thrown in his three major league seasons. In 2015, it lists Gausman as throwing 69.5 percent fastballs, 10.8 percent sliders, 3.6 percent changeups and 16.1 percent split-fingered fastballs.

There’s no discrepancy when it comes to Gausman’s success at home. He’s registered a 3.24 ERA and 1.154 WHIP in 29 games at Camden Yards and a 5.18 ERA and 1.413 WHIP in 36 road games. He was 3-1 with a 2.19 ERA and 1.013 WHIP in 11 games (eight starts) at home last season, and opponents batted .212/.256/.369 against him. He was 1-6 with a 6.10 ERA and 1.424 WHIP in 14 games (nine starts) on the road, and opponents batted .284/.335/.500.

“For some reason, I just feel really comfortable pitching there, maybe because I know you can’t leave the ball up and it can get hit out real easily,” Gausman said. “But if I were to talk to a pitcher about why it’s so tough is, all the ballparks are tiny and the lineups are completely different in the AL East than any other division in baseball. Obviously, you have designated hitters and most of the designated hitters could be everyday hitters. They’re usually top-of-the-order types of guys. I look at the National League lineups and they just don’t compare, so obviously it’s tough. But I think if you really have success as a pitcher in the AL East, it really shows that you can keep the ball down and keep the ball in the park, and when you do that consistently in the AL East against the tough lineups, the Torontos and New Yorks and Bostons most of the time ...

“It’s a tough division, it’s very competitive, and I feel like every lineup in our division is a very tough one. You’ve got to bring your A game every fifth day. That’s for sure.”

The consensus among baseball insiders and fans is that Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez and Ubaldo Jimenez need to consistently bring their A games if the Orioles are going to make the playoffs for the third time in five seasons.

“We even talked about last year, the fact that at the end of the season we couldn’t wait to get back and get going,” Gausman said. “I know Miguel Gonzalez wants to come back. He had a rough season injury-wise. He felt like he was never really 100 percent. We all kind of struggled in different aspects. Ubaldo got off to a great start and then kind of struggled at the end of the season, and that happens. But I think we’re all really excited to get back and get going.

“We know that our lineup is very good and if we can consistently pitch the way that we believe that we can, our bullpen’s going to shut the door and our defense is going to do what it’s done the last couple of years. Every day we feel like we have the chance to go out and win. Especially in a very tough division, we feel like we can bounce back.”

Gausman applauded the Orioles - figuratively, at least - for retaining Matt Wieters, Darren O’Day and Chris Davis.

“That’s huge and I think it’s kind of showing that Baltimore means business, that they want to win,” he said. “Just the fact that (Peter) Angelos was even involved in this has a lot to say about how much they loved being in the playoffs in 2014 and in 2012 also. We’re ready to win and I know our fan base is ready to win also, so bringing back all three of those guys was huge for us.

“They’re obviously a huge impact not just on the field, but in the clubhouse, too. As you know, Chris Davis is something else. He’s a very funny guy and we love having him around. Same with Matt Wieters, and Darren O’Day is a huge leader for us also. Bringing back those three guys was probably the best thing they’ve done in recent years, so it’s very exciting to know that the team is ready to win and compete and willing to sign guys to long-term contracts and pay them for what they’ve done for the city and for the team up to this point.”

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