Guthrie OK with moving back to square one

Orioles are giving long look to pitcher, a former first-round pick who's out of options

March 06, 2007|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN REPORTER

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. -- On the same day that pitcher Jeremy Guthrie was driving to his home in Las Vegas, the Cleveland Indians cleared room on their 40-man roster by removing him from it.

Claiming Guthrie off waivers never seemed like much of a gamble to the Orioles.

Of course they would take a chance on a guy so talented that three different teams drafted him in separate years. So talented that the Indians used the 22nd overall pick to get him in 2002. And so talented that an Orioles scout and a former minor league manager offered robust endorsements once he became available.

Guthrie threw two more scoreless innings yesterday against the Florida Marlins, raising his total this spring to four. He remains in the mix for the long-relief job with the Orioles, who would have to expose him to waivers if they wanted to send him down. And if an injury creates an opening in the rotation, he'll receive consideration.

"They don't do much as far as communication here compared to what I'm used to," he said. "It hasn't been said, but my thought process is I'm trying to get a bullpen spot and hopefully get some innings there and be ready if given an opportunity to do anything else."

Guthrie, who was claimed by the Orioles on Jan. 29, escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third inning yesterday by inducing a double-play grounder from Josh Willingham, and disposed of the Marlins with ease in the fourth, striking out Cody Ross.

"He's shown good control of his fastball and has a nice changeup," said pitching coach Leo Mazzone. "He also fields his position extremely well. He shows a lot of athleticism. So now it becomes this: When the lights go on and you're facing some pretty good hitters, can he trust the effort that he's putting on his pitches right now, because he's been locating extremely well?"

Locating Guthrie hasn't always been a cinch. He pitched at Brigham Young as a freshman before embarking on a two-year Mormon mission in northern Spain. Upon his return, he enrolled at Stanford in the fall of 2000 and went 13-2 with a 2.51 ERA as a junior.

Along the way, Guthrie refused to sign with the New York Mets, who chose him out of high school in the 15th round, because they wouldn't allow him to go on his mission. And he never reached agreement with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who selected him in the third round in 2001.

"The Pirates didn't ever talk to me," he said. "They switched general managers, and they never approached me until the day I went to school. I wanted to get closer to my [sociology] degree at Stanford, and I was still two-plus years away from graduating."

Brave decisions have been a routine part of Guthrie's life. And he isn't afraid of being labeled a bust, which often happens when a first-round pick is released.

"Those thoughts don't even enter my mind," he said. "I feel like I can compete."

The Indians signed Guthrie to a major league contract after drafting him, just as the Orioles did with Adam Loewen, the starter in yesterday's 5-3 victory. Guthrie was out of options this year, and the Indians had no room for him in their rotation or bullpen - and no faith that he was ready to pitch for them.

He made 16 appearances with the Indians over three seasons, including one start, and posted a 6.08 ERA. They called him up three times last year, and he allowed 15 runs and 24 hits in 19 1/3 innings.

Guthrie, who will turn 28 next month, won't accuse the Indians of giving up on him too soon. Along with his ability to hold runners on base, he also can hold himself accountable.

He points to his first professional season, when he went 4-9 with a 6.52 ERA at Triple-A Buffalo. And 2004, when he allowed 17 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings with the same team.

"The struggles I had early on I think probably made them a little scared to bring me up," he said. "At the same time, pitchers below me were pitching great. And the starters already there missed something like 10 starts in two full seasons. Those guys stayed healthy.

"I got opportunities early, and I think if I would have pitched better that first year, I could have been in Cleveland. I had chances and I never once felt like they gave up on me. The only time I really proved that I could pitch there was last year. In April, I thought I was pitching as good as I ever had, and they wanted to go in another direction."

Dave Trembley, now the Orioles' bullpen coach, saw enough of Guthrie's starts while managing at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Ottawa to trust his ability. He sees the potential for a substantial reward down the road.

"The guy throws low to mid-90s all the time, with movement," Trembley said. "If he had command of his fastball early in the game, you weren't going to get him because you couldn't sit on one pitch. I just don't think he ever found his niche with Cleveland. But I talked to him when he got here and I think he's real comfortable. He knows some people, and he knows he's going to get a legitimate shot."

roch.kubatko@baltsun.com

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