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Orioles Starter Kevin Gausman's Inefficiency Is Emblematic Of League-Wide Problem

June 28, 2017
At this stage of his career, you get a little bit of everything with Orioles right-hander Kevin Gausman. In his 3-1 win against the Toronto Blue Jays June 27, the good news and bad news came on the same pitch -- his last of the game.

The good news was Gausman was throwing harder on his 97th pitch of the game (96 mph) than he was at the start, when he topped out at 95 mph. The problem was his final pitches came with one out in the sixth inning.

The effort left Gausman two outs shy of qualifying for the bogus statistic of a "quality start," but nevertheless was instrumental in a win, which is still the most important statistic even if downplayed in the analytic era we live in. But there is still a missing link, not only for Gausman, but also for the Orioles -- and to a certain degree the baseball industry as well.

Gausman is suffering from the same ailment that curtails so many young pitchers -- an inability to "carry best stuff" beyond the 100-pitch limit that seems to be more a barrier than it is a limit. With only three runs on the board, O's manager Buck Showalter can be forgiven for a hasty call to the back end of his bullpen, the only trustworthy part of his pitching staff this year.

But relying on three or more subsequent pitchers to get the final 11 outs in order to secure a win is a blueprint for disaster. It all but guarantees that at least once every three games a starter will be left in the game to be pummeled because there is no quality help available.

By just about every effective pitching guideline, 100 pitches won't get a starter through seven innings. Yet in this day of magic numbers, 100 pitches has almost routinely become the exit number.

Gausman, the Orioles and probably every other team in baseball need to get past that artificial but almost automatic barrier. For sure, Gausman who had allowed a modest six baserunners, has to find a way to make 99 pitches go beyond 16 outs. We can dwell on the fact that he could use a dependable third pitch, but the bottom line is Gausman's "stuff" plays good enough to win in the major leagues -- and it plays good enough that he should be able to find a way to get past the sixth inning more often than not.

Baseball seems intent on following the trend to build pitching staffs from the back end forward, while paying big dollars to those who are restricted on the front end. The back end of the Orioles' staff has been dependable, even with All-Star closer Zach Britton on the sideline. The problem has been finding a way to get there, and it's not confined to the Orioles, it just seems that way.

All you have to do is check the box scores each day. You can usually count on one hand the number of starting pitchers who throw more than 100 pitches -- and even fewer who last as long as seven innings. Granted it may be easier to preach the theory than practice it, but somehow those bars need to be raised.

And somehow the Orioles need to find more starters capable of reaching the modest barriers already in place.

Jim Henneman can be reached at