As this season progressed, young pitchers earned promotions and the inevitable talk about next year gained momentum, Jeremy Guthrie's name kept falling farther and farther down the Orioles' 2010 depth chart.
The club's Opening Day starter for two consecutive years, Guthrie has at times become an afterthought as he suffered through an uneven, and sometimes brutal, 2009.
Yet, as the Orioles' starters of the future have hit the rookie wall or been shut down with injuries, it's Guthrie who is emerging as the rotation's most reliable member down the stretch.
On Sunday, he allowed just six singles in seven superb innings in a 7-0 win against the Texas Rangers that marked the Orioles' third shutout of the season and first since Rich Hill beat the Seattle Mariners on June 1.
"I have never stopped working and I have never lost the hope or the confidence that things would turn around at some point," said Guthrie (10-13). "There is still a lot of baseball for me individually and a lot of baseball for the team. And hopefully with this work and the confidence, I can sustain that."
The win tied Guthrie's career high of 10, set last year. It also provided the Orioles (56-81) with another day's reprieve from clinching their 12th consecutive losing season. It was just their second series win in the season's second half and the second time since the All-Star break that they have won consecutive games.
They improved their dismal records on Sundays (9-13), in day games (15-24) and in series finales (16-28), while earning a 5-5 season split against the Rangers, who are still chasing the Boston Red Sox in the American League wild card race.
"To beat Texas - they've got a real good team - you've got to make pitches, and that's what Guthrie did," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "He made big pitches."
It was the second time in 28 starts, and the first since April 11, that Guthrie did not allow a run. In his past four outings, he has surrendered four runs in 27 innings (1.33 ERA), dropping his ERA from a season-worst 5.66 on Aug. 16 to 4.96 now. He hadn't finished a start with a sub-5.00 ERA since May 30.
"This is probably the best stretch he's had this year," Trembley said. "Obviously, he had a stretch last year where he had 10 or 11 quality starts. But I would think this year is the best stretch he's had since coming back from the All-Star break and I think it's because of the location of his fastball has been a whole lot better. He hasn't been pitching up as much."
Using a diving fastball that reached 93 mph even on his 110th and final pitch of the afternoon, Guthrie struck out six and walked just one, the third consecutive start in which he allowed one or no walks.
Guthrie has tinkered with his release point and tried to be more relaxed on the mound, and it has translated to better command and better movement on his pitches, which has led to more success and more confidence.
"In this season, certainly, [this is] the most confident I've felt going out there every five days with the baseball," Guthrie said.
The Orioles lost Guthrie's previous start, 2-0, but Sunday in front of an announced crowd of 21,599 they gave him plenty of run support, scoring twice in the second on a double by Chad Moeller and batting around in a four-run fourth.
Texas starter Derek Holland (7-10), a left-handed rookie, had allowed 16 runs over nine innings in his past two starts. He fared no better Sunday, giving up six runs in 3 1/3 innings.
Brian Roberts had a two-run single in the fourth and Jeff Fiorentino, making his first big league start in three years, added RBI singles in the fourth and the seventh.
First baseman Ty Wigginton tied a season high with three hits, including two doubles, his second multi-double game of the year.
But the afternoon belonged to Guthrie, who is suddenly serving notice that he belongs in any discussion about the 2010 rotation.
"I don't so much worry about the attention given to me as long as I feel like I am getting better and working toward becoming a better pitcher. And I think the attention that was given to the other players, the other young pitchers, was deserving," Guthrie said.
"Those guys deserve credit, they deserve attention and if they have gotten it, that's great," he said. "But I haven't gone home feeling left out or overlooked."
For Sunday's game PG 4
ORIOLES @RED SOX
Tuesday, 7:10 p.m.
TV: MASN HD
Radio: 105.7 FM
Inside: Fiorentino stars in rare start PG 5