Is it too early to panic with Kevin Gausman?

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Gausman showed promise as he rose through the Orioles organization, but not enough for Baltimore to hang onto as they began a dreaded rebuild. Consequently, the Braves found themselves another powerful arm at the trade deadline last year, hoping a change of scenery and a switch to the National League would help tap into his high upside.

In ten starts last year, that is exactly what the Braves got. The former #4 overall pick out of LSU enjoyed a marvelous final two months, going 5-3 with a 2.87 ERA. Gaus didn’t have much of an effect on the Divisional series against the Dodgers, but he showed enough to be considered one of the team’s top starters heading in 2019, especially with so much uncertainty surrounding the rotation.

After a short setback from a minor injury, Gausman made his season debut on April 5th at SunTrust Park against the Marlins. He tossed seven shutout innings of two-hit ball to defeat the Fish, but that was against Miami. Gausman has not looked like the same pitcher since.

Ignoring the one start in which he threw at Jose Ureña and was ejected, he didn’t record another outing of six innings until over a month later on May 11th (5 starts). Meanwhile, the rest of the Braves staff began to piece itself together.

Mike Soroka and Max Fried emerged as the headline starters of the bunch. It doesn’t matter how much experience they have; they are the Braves one-two punch at the top of the rotation going forward. Julio Teheran has been lights out in May, allowing just three runs in five starts. Even Mike Foltynewicz, who had to shake off the rust after returning from injury, looks to be piecing things back together and returning to his 2018 form.

Gausman – well – he’s now the fifth guy, and he might not even hold down that spot for long. After last night’s debacle against Washington, it’s time for the Braves to consider their options for replacing him altogether seriously.

The most apparent solution would be moving Sean Newcomb back into a starter’s role. Newk’s early struggles earned him a trip to Gwinnett, but he dominated in his return to the minors and has since been a reliable arm in the Braves bullpen. Most importantly, his severe walk issues have been absent of late. And if that’s the case, the sky is the limit no matter when he is pitching. Losing him out of the pen would hurt a group that’s been abysmal this season, but Newcomb has always been a starting caliber pitcher, and that is where his value lies.

The Braves also have a bevy of other directions they could choose if they were hell-bent on keeping Newk in the bullpen (I don’t think they are). Bryse Wilson could see another shot at the majors, Touki Toussaint could move into the final rotation spot from the bullpen. Maybe the front office even opts to allow Kolby Allard to come up for the first time this year. Or perhaps even Dallas Keuchel, anyone? However, none of those options make nearly as much sense as Newcomb.

If things continue this way for Gausman, it’s a matter of time before someone else gets an opportunity, but two things may have the Braves wary about pulling the trigger now.

The first is what will they do with Gaus if he is not starting. They could move him to the bullpen, but I don’t know how effective, if at all, he will be as a reliever. Newcomb has proven he can be a valuable commodity in that role, so the tradeoff may not be worth it until the bullpen adds some pieces.

Secondly, Gausman has been a notoriously slow starter in his career. He’s 18-30 with a 4.86 ERA in the first half of the season and 28-28 with a 3.53 ERA in the second half. The Braves can attest to that based off how good he was at the end of last season.

Perhaps giving him a little more time to figure things out is in the best interest of the team, especially since Gausman had thrown six innings while allowing three runs or less in his last three starts before facing Washington. However, this is a situation that is nearing its breaking point. I expect him to get the ball five days from now, but he better look like a different pitcher soon. The Braves can’t afford to be giving up games, and they have a plethora of directions they can go to replace Gausman.

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