TAMPA, Fla. -- It's not just those newfound glasses -- which Kevin Gausman jokingly refers to as his goggled alter ego -- that has the Orioles' No. 2 pitching prospect throwing well this spring. The 23-year-old, who has allowed two runs over seven Grapefruit League innings, has added weight, cleaned up his kick off the mound and is focused on making it a very tough decision for Baltimore this spring.
"Last year kind of prepared me for this year," Gausman, who has Minor League options remaining, said of his chances to make the Opening Day rotation. "I feel like no matter how well I pitch, there's just some things I can't control, obviously. But I'm going to put as much pressure on them as I can, and make sure when I do go north, whether it's March 31 or May or whenever, that I'm ready for it."
Gausman, who was so impressive in his rookie camp in 2013 that manager Buck Showalter kept him around much later than anticipated, has been even better this spring. His stuff -- with a fastball clocked as high as 98 mph -- has been crisper, he's more confident in the clubhouse, and opposing scouts have salivated over the young righty's potential. But the Orioles' rotation, already crowded enough to likely force Zach Britton to the bullpen, probably will not immediately include Gausman.
"It's always that challenge every spring," Showalter said of trying to keep the out-of-option guys while fielding a competitive Opening Day roster. "Your best 25 or your right 25? Right now, I'm dealing with the best 25 until somebody tells me differently. We'd like to think at some point [Gausman is] going to be one of those, it's just whether or not now is the time."
Gausman is doing everything possible to force Showalter's hand early. He's up between 12-15 pounds on the scale -- "good weight," according to Showalter -- and he has cleaned up his delivery, which got into some bad habits in the Minors during his first pro season.
"When I got called up [last season], my mechanics were probably the worst they have been the last couple years," said Gausman, who made his Major League debut on May 23 and pitched to a 3.53 ERA between two levels in his first full pro season.
"And I didn't notice it, because I was having so much success in Double-A. I didn't notice it until I got to the big leagues. I didn't really have that angle on my fastball, and that's the big difference for me. [In the Minors] I got a lot of ground balls, and that's what I've been doing [this spring], is getting a lot of ground balls and being down in the zone. Last year, I think that's why I got hurt early [in the Majors]."
Gausman, who has more strikeouts (five) than hits allowed (four) this spring, said the main issue mechanically was his kick. He feels now like he's able to get more of a downward plane on the ball.
"More than anything, last year I was bringing my chest to my knee, bringing everything together and then separate and go," Gausman said, demonstrating the movement in the Orioles' clubhouse to prove his point. "Now it's more I bring my front knee to my back shoulder.
"That's one of the things I did to create the angle that I did in college. I don't know what happened last year that I got away from it. But I was pitching well, so I wasn't worried about it."
And then there are those glasses, which Gausman sported in his first game action against the Red Sox, firing three scoreless innings with a trio of strikeouts in a night contest last Saturday against Boston's regulars. He likes the oddity and loathes wearing contacts, so Gausman figured he'd give them a try. The righty puts some sticky stuff on his nose to make them stay put and called his initial foray into glasses "an awesome experience." Gausman has gotten some good-natured ribbing from teammates about his goggled alter ego, which he takes in stride.
"He's a little more comfortable coming into camp," Showalter said of Gausman, who went 3-5 with a 5.66 ERA for the Orioles last season, finding success toward the end of the season out of the bullpen. "He's not the guy carrying around the bubble gum bag and the pink tutu and whatever else they do to him [as a rookie]. He's kind of graduated. With a guy like Kevin, you are pretty confident it's going to be when [he gets to the big leagues], not if."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli.