O's Guthrie commands respect

Improved control, performances force team, opponents to take notice

June 05, 2007|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN REPORTER

SEATTLE -- Several of his performances have been overshadowed by bullpen blowups and controversial managerial decisions. But before Chris Ray blew a save Sunday afternoon by surrendering a walk-off home run to Vladimir Guerrero, Jeremy Guthrie had already made a strong impression on another opposing team.

In eight innings against the Los Angeles Angels, Guthrie, the rookie right-hander whom the Orioles picked up off waivers from the Cleveland Indians this offseason, allowed just one earned run on three hits and no walks, while striking out four. It was his sixth straight quality start and the fifth consecutive outing that he pitched at least seven innings and gave up three runs or fewer.

"He was marvelous even though he didn't win the game," Guerrero said through an interpreter. "What made him so tough was he was so aggressive with the slider and the fastball. He did a very nice job. We didn't know much about him, but he did a very nice job."

Angels manager Mike Scioscia agreed, saying: "He had terrific command, good stuff; he threw his breaking ball in off-counts. [He] did all the things a good pitcher does."

In seven starts this season, Guthrie is 2-1 with a 1.68 ERA in 48 1/3 innings. Guthrie, who started the season as the club's long reliever before injuries took Adam Loewen and Jaret Wright from the rotation, is 3-1 with a 2.76 ERA overall.

The Orioles are tempering their enthusiasm with him, not wanting to put too many expectations on a once highly prized prospect who failed to live up to them in Cleveland. But that's becoming harder and harder with each outing.

Guthrie, 28, has shown the ability to dominate hitters with a fastball that is consistently in the mid-90s. He mixes in a hard curveball and a good changeup, relying on impeccable control that wasn't always there during his tenure with Cleveland. In 16 games with the Indians, all but one as a reliever, Guthrie had a 6.08 ERA in 37 innings, giving up 42 hits and walking 23.

But as an Orioles starter, Guthrie has walked only six batters for a team that's second in the American League in walks allowed going into last night's game. In three of his starts, including Sunday, he has not walked a batter, and he hasn't walked more than two in any of his starts. He has credited pitching coach Leo Mazzone for simplifying things, allowing him to focus on throwing strikes.

"He was awesome," Mazzone said after Sunday's start. "He had command of everything - command of his fastball, command of his breaking stuff, command of his straight change. He was just outstanding."

Orioles designated hitter-first baseman Kevin Millar described Guthrie as "unbelievable."

"He's turned into one of the most dominating pitchers going right now in the big leagues," Millar said. "He's giving us seven-plus innings every start. He's throwing his fastball with command. He's throwing great breaking balls in certain situations. He's really, really taken advantage of the opportunity he has been given and making a name for himself."

Team officials were slightly concerned about Guthrie's makeup when, in two April relief outings in his return to Cleveland, he allowed six earned runs on six hits in a total of 1 1/3 innings. He said later that he wanted to do so well against his former team that nerves got the best of him.

But he has calmed those concerns, holding the Boston Red Sox to just three hits and no earned runs in 8 1/3 innings at Fenway Park on May 13. Now, about the only thing he has to prove is that he can bounce back from a bad start.

"If he ever has a bad game, we'd have to see what he does after that to come back to see what he's really got. You hope that you don't have to see that," manager Sam Perlozzo said. "It's certainly a bonus for us. We're sitting there wondering [whether] he's our long guy, and now he's a pretty darn good starter. That's a good thing for us as an organization. We've got an extra guy there. We're not going to take one thing away from him. He's been outstanding."

Guthrie said he is encouraged that he has found consistency for the first time in his major league career.

"You work for consistency," he said. "It's always a pleasant surprise anytime you're pitching at the top level to have that kind of consistency. I'm very grateful every time I go out. Almost every inning that I get through, I feel a lot of gratitude. It feels good because these guys are good hitters. Any pitch, anything can happen. To string together a bunch of good innings like that is humbling."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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