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Kevin Gausman joins Braves, believes he can realize his potential

Kevin Gausman’s locker was adjacent to Nick Markakis’ in 2013 and 2014. Now he’s reunited with his former neighbor – along with several other ex-Orioles.

Gausman learned Monday that several teams, all in the National League, had interest in acquiring him before the next day’s trade deadline. News trickled through almost at the buzzer: Gausman was headed to the Braves.

The Orioles already were in New York to play the Yankees, so Gausman stayed waiting on his new team’s arrival to play the Mets. He joined the visiting clubhouse and put on the uniform for the first time Thursday.

“It’s a little weird,” he said. “I’m used to wearing black and orange, and now I’m wearing navy. So it’s a little different. … But obviously I’m really excited to get going.”

Gausman, 27, was the Braves’ biggest deadline pickup. He was the fourth pick of the 2012 draft with untapped potential and, as many see it, a classic change-of-scenery guy.

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The Braves maintained interest in Gausman, especially given the astronomical price on Rays strikeout artist Chris Archer, who went to Pittsburgh for two highly regarded prospects and a third unnamed player.

Instead, the Braves’ motivation to add a controllable starter translated to Gausman, for whom they gave up four lower-tier prospects.

The right-hander has a 4.43 ERA in 21 games, striking out 104 and walking 32 in 124 innings. His career ERA (4.22) and strikeouts per nine (8.2) don’t jump out, but he feels his best years are ahead of him. He just hasn’t strung together any consistency, he said.

And his former pitching coaches in Baltimore, Dom Chiti and Dave Wallace, could be the ones to harness his talent in Atlanta.

“I had some good years with the Orioles, but to be honest I never felt like I got to the best of my abilities,” Gausman said. “I’ve worked with Dave Wallace and Dom Chiti before. So I think that had a lot to do with them going after me. They were maybe in their ear telling them they could get him back to what he was before. Not that I’ve had a bad career at all, it’s just tough to pitch in the American League East.”

Gausman feels he’ll benefit from leaving that gauntlet of a division, which is notoriously hard on pitchers. He’s also helped by familiar company.

There are five former Orioles now on the Braves, each of whom were part of rejuvenating the struggling franchise: Markakis, Ryan Flaherty, Brad Brach, Darren O’Day and Gausman.

O’Day was included in the Gausman deal, but is out for the season as he recovers from left hamstring surgery. He was scheduled to arrive to Atlanta this weekend, and won’t be on road trips.

The Braves obtained Brach last week for international slot money, further bolstering their bullpen.

But having his locker next to Markakis’ when he broke into the bigs was a learning experience for Gausman. They’re reunited on a team they jokingly call “Baltimore south.”

“I was lucky enough to have my locker next to Nick Markakis for his last two years in Baltimore,” Gausman said. “So just watching him play every day. When you watch him play every day, you get a good feel for how good he really is. He’s a great clubhouse leader, too. So definitely helps me knowing him.”

Gausman was emotional when he was dealt. He saw the once-saved Orioles being torn down, restarting another lengthy rebuild.

His teammates, rarely serious with him, grew emotional as well. Gausman was there for five seasons, and as he put it, helped bring winning back to Baltimore. 

He had an idea a trade was coming, even before his agent spoke with him 24 hours before the curtain fell. 

“When you start to look around and see other guys leaving, and when you look at what guys are making, it was kind of a ladder effect,” he said. “Seemed they went by that to get guys in the order they went. I was trying to be optimistic. I didn’t know if it was going to happen, so I just prepared myself in case it did.”

He sees shades of the 2014 Orioles – who won the AL East for the first time since 1997 - in these Braves: young, exciting and creating an atmosphere around the ballpark.

Gausman went from being mired in last place back into a pennant race. He’s with a team that won’t be rebuilding any time soon, and obviously valued having him under team control through 2020.

So the LSU product set foot in the Braves’ visiting clubhouse before Thursday’s game. He threw a bullpen session in preparation for his first start Saturday.

He introduced himself to new teammates and greeted guys he knew. One aspect quickly jumped out aside from swapping jerseys.

“They’re a lot younger than the team I was just on,” he said. “That’s the biggest difference I noticed. It’s a team that kind of seems to do everything well. Really exciting team to watch. Fun, fast, athletic. Young starting pitchers, also veteran bullpen guys. So it’s a good mix of different guys and they’re playing well now.”

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