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Gausman hopes last year's experience pays off

Orioles' top prospect taking it slow in offseason, looks to win rotation job

BALTIMORE -- For Kevin Gausman, last year was about understanding who he is as a pitcher and sticking to that.

The Orioles' top prospect, who joined about 20 players assembled at this week's minicamp, slowed things down this offseason and opted not to throw in winter ball and extend his season. Instead, Gausman, who came into his first Major League camp last spring in "midseason form," took things slower this winter in Baton Rouge, La., and hopes the experience of 2013 will help him push through the rigors of a 162-game schedule.

"For me, August was the month where I had to grind through," said Gausman, who made it to the Majors in his first full pro season after being a first-round pick out of Louisiana State University in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. "I didn't really feel my best throughout August. ... I never really knew what it was like to be pitching in August and September, and for it to be in a playoff race was obviously really cool and something I've never done before. Every day was special.

"It was the first time I ever pitched the way that I did out of the bullpen. I was throwing everything hard. I've never thrown a slider in the upper 80s until I came out of the 'pen. I got to learn myself."

In a blink of an eye, the right-hander went from being an LSU standout to pitching in the nation's capital in front of a packed house on Memorial Day. Gausman impressed many in the organization with how he carried himself, and he tried to take it all in stride.

In the 23-year-old's big league debut on May 23, he allowed the Blue Jays four runs on seven hits over five frames as the O's lost, 12-6. Gausman would make five starts overall, going 0-3 with a 7.66 ERA, before being optioned back to Triple-A Norfolk on June 14. He was called up 10 days later to bolster an overworked bullpen. It was a role Gausman thrived in, a chance to pick the brains of veterans like Jim Johnson, Tommy Hunter and Darren O'Day without the pressure of being part of the rotation.

In 15 relief outings, Gausman went 3-2 with a 3.52 ERA. He earned late-inning opportunities and built up his confidence amongst the relief corps, giving Baltimore another power righty option.

"I feel like I really learned how to pitch coming out of the bullpen," said Gausman, who observed the consistency of his older teammates' routines and detailed preparation. "I know what it takes to get guys out on a consistent basis, and now rather than doing it for two innings, I have to do it for six and seven and eight. I'm going to build on how I ended last season."

One appearance Gausman will never forget is his Sept. 18 outing against the Red Sox. In two innings, he fanned five of the six batters he faced, and he called his dad afterwards to make sure he saw it.

Gausman will enter Spring Training with the same mindset as a year ago -- to win a rotation spot. And with the Orioles relying on their young arms in lieu of making a big splash in free agency, that certainly helps his chances. Even if Gausman and fellow top prospect Dylan Bundy don't crack the Opening Day roster, they are a big part of Baltimore's future and have established a nice friendship.

Gausman, Bundy and Henry Urrutia were part of Major League Baseball's recent Rookie Development Program, and all three were reunited in Sarasota, Fla., for some early work. Bundy, who is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, started throwing this month and could be a factor in the second half.

"Me and Dylan are completely different in a lot of ways, but in one big way, we are both alike in that we are really motivated," Gausman said. "We want to be the best we can be. Obviously you hear about Dylan's work ethic, and that's why this bump in the road is going to be nothing for him. When he gets back on the mound, he will be just the way he used to be.

"We both want to be 'the guy' on the team. We want to have that No. 1 role, so I think it's good when you have that. We are kind of competitive with each other."

There will be plenty of in-house competition for Gausman this spring, with Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez and Bud Norris solid bets for the rotation, while Zach Britton, Brian Matusz and Steve Johnson are among the other candidates in what's shaping up to be an intriguing spring storyline.

"What was it, 2 1/2 years on Tillman, before he took the [chance] and ran? Everyone is not the same," manager Buck Showalter said of predicting when Gausman could take it to the next level. "I know Kevin is going to be as good as he's equipped to be. The other part of it ... I've seen enough of him, he's going to get it. Stuff-wise, he's fine. Without a doubt, he's right where he needs to be."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli.
Read More: Baltimore Orioles, Kevin Gausman