It took Orioles first-rounder Kevin Gausman almost seven weeks to collect his first win of the season. In that time, he made starts in four different states, took a round trip to Baltimore for a spot start and both suffered from, and overcame, pneumonia.
Now the monkey is off his back.
Gausman allowed four hits and blanked Gwinnett over a season-high 6 1/3 innings on Sunday afternoon as Triple-A Norfolk beat the Braves, 8-2, at Coolray Field.
"It feels good," said Gausman, who throws a two-seam fastball, a changeup, slider and splitter. "I felt like I commanded my fastball more than anything -- on the inner half and the outer half. I was throwing my pitches for strikes.
"I got a lot of early outs in at-bats with my fastball and I was commanding it to both sides of the plate, so I really didn't need to throw my slider too much. I throw the splitter as an out pitch. The circle change is an early contact pitch."
The 23-year-old right-hander lowered his ERA to 2.41 on the season and 1.40 in his last five starts.
Gausman (1-2) has pitched well enough at times this year, but a lack of innings has cost him chances at wins. In four of his first seven starts, he did not allow a run, but in three of those appearances he failed to make it through five innings.
The LSU product yielded three hits against Charlotte on Opening Day but only went 4 2/3 innings. In consecutive Triple-A starts against Durham (April 20), Columbus (April 26) and Indianapolis (May 10), Gausman allowed nine combined hits. Against the Bulls, he exited with a 1-0 lead after five innings, only to see the visitors tie the game in the sixth. In the latter two starts, he was lifted after 4 2/3 frames.
Entering Sunday, of the 493 Minor Leaguers who'd made at least seven starts this year, only 29 had failed to record a win. Gausman made sure his streak didn't extend to eight games.
"It was great," he said of his first Minor League win since Aug. 19. "I've been on a strict pitch count, so it was good to get into the seventh. If you want to do that at the Major League level, you have to do able to do it at this level pretty often.
"[The pitch count] was 75. They didn't tell me much, just that they wanted to manage my innings for the first two months of the season. Then I was out for two weeks, so when I came off the DL they decided to keep it at 75 for another start."
Gausman, who was ranked second among Orioles prospects before losing his rookie eligibility earlier this week, threw 64 of 93 pitches for strikes and did not walk a batter for the first time this year.
Selected fourth overall in the 2012 Draft, he allowed singles in the second, third, fifth and sixth innings but no one reached scoring position. He exited after retiring Philip Gosselin on a ground ball to begin the home half of the seventh.
The 6 1/3-inning stint was Gausman's longest since June, and it could help his case to return to Camden Yards.
"I gave [manager Ron Johnson] the ball and he asked me if I wanted one more batter, but he had already called in [Chris Jones] from the bullpen," he said. "I said, 'Yeah,' and he laughed and said, 'Get out of here.'
"I had 77 pitches [on May 10], then 87 the next one [on May 20], so 93 was a steady increase. Ninety-three was the most this season. I thought I was going to be in that 90- to 100-[pitch] range. I think my next one, I can get 100, 105."
Gausman has made 21 appearances, including six starts, for the Orioles. He's 3-6 with a 6.10 ERA in the Majors, predominantly in 2013. In his only big league start this season, the Colorado native surrendered five runs on six hits and two walks over four innings in a 7-5 loss to the Tigers.
"I want to be there," Gausman said, referring to Baltimore. "My goal is to get there and help the club in any way I can. Whether you're there for a day or an extended stay, you want to stay there. That is what you dream about."
Norfolk staked Gausman to an early lead, scoring three times in the second. Jemile Weeks and Francisco Peguero both went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a run scored, while Quintin Berry tripled, doubled and scored twice.
Gwinnett starter Cody Martin (3-3), the Braves' No. 9 prospect, allowed five runs -- two earned -- on seven hits over four innings. He walked three batters and struck out one.