Braves right-hander Kevin Gausman will be activated from the 10-day injured list to start this evening’s game against the Nationals, reports David O’Brien of the Athletic. Gausman has been out since June 10 with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. The team has yet to formally announce the move, which will require a corresponding 25-man roster opening.
The 2019 season has been a challenge for Gausman, owner of a 6.21 ERA over 13 starts. There’s reason to believe he can at least reemerge as a capable mid-rotation starter if the injury is behind him. Gausman’s strikeout, walk and home run rates this year aren’t significantly different from those of the past three seasons. While he’s never quite lived up to the #2 starter billing he received as a former top-five draft choice and top-25 overall prospect, his track record is certainly one of a competent big-league starter. Between 2016-2018, Gausman combined average rate performance (a 4.17 ERA, 21.2% strikeout rate, 7.2% walk rate) with rare durability, ranking seventh in baseball with 95 starts.
Even a mere return to form would be a boon to an Atlanta rotation that could use the stability. On the season, the Braves’ rotation has posted respectable if unspectacular numbers, but things have been a little more worrisome recently. Mike Soroka’s numbers have tailed off somewhat following his otherworldly start, while Dallas Keuchel and Julio Teheran have worrying peripherals belied by their solid ERA’s (although it’s worth noting both veterans have made something of a habit of outperforming ERA estimators in the past). Most worrisome, #2 starter Max Fried recently hit the 10-day IL with a blister. Former ace Mike Foltynewicz, meanwhile, has been better at Triple-A following a nightmarish start to the season, but the organization evidently feels he has more kinks to work through before getting recalled.
As O’Brien explores more fully in the above-linked piece, though, Gausman isn’t merely targeting a return to the status quo. He’ll bring with him a new toy, having found the grip on a curveball, a pitch he hasn’t thrown since 2016, per Brooks Baseball. Gausman has long had above-average fastball velocity and a vaunted split-change, but he’s yet to settle on a trusted breaking pitch. He scrapped the curveball for a slider entering 2017, but never felt comfortable with the new offering, which was average at best at generating swings-and-misses and ground balls.
Of course, Gausman’s curveball was never an elite pitch either, the reason he dropped it in the first place. It’s fair, then, to be skeptical of the hook unlocking another gear in Gausman until we see him deploy it at the highest level. Nevertheless, it’s at least notable to hear the hurler express excitement about a new breaking pitch, considering he’s essentially pitched the entire 2019 season with only a fastball and splitter, having ditched the slider from the season’s outset.
Whether Gausman’s third offering spurs a new level of performance remains to be seen. Regardless, just having a healthy, competent version of Gausman taking the ball every fifth day should help assuage some of the front office’s concerns about the rotation, which have caused them to poke around on the cream of the crop on the trade market. Perhaps the NL East frontrunners will swing a deal for starting pitching in the coming weeks no matter what, but a return to form (or further breakout) from their prized deadline acquisition last year might allow them to deploy their still-elite farm system to address other weak points on the roster.