Guthrie struggles in loss to Jays

Right-hander's poor performance this preseason recalls his 2009 spring

March 18, 2010|By Dan Connolly | dan.connolly@baltsun.com

DUNEDIN, Fla. — By all accounts, Jeremy Guthrie's 2009 preseason was nightmarish, and it bled into what became his worst season as a big leaguer.

The 30-year-old right-hander posted a 10.56 ERA last spring for the Orioles -- and he surrendered six more runs in two short outings for the United States in the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

When Guthrie stumbled badly during the regular season, leading the American League with 17 losses and posting a 5.04 ERA, some in the Orioles' organization pointed to his participation in the WBC as a contributing factor in his struggles.

After all, he had to leave his regular spring routine to throw just 3 2/3 innings for Team USA, and then he rarely looked like the same pitcher in 2009 that he was the two previous seasons.

"I've said this repeatedly. He got out of sync by going to the WBC," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said before Guthrie faced the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday. "He has come into camp [this year], as we expected, in great shape. His delivery is much more consistent, and the location of his pitches, for the most part, has been down."

This is supposed to be a different year for Guthrie, one in which he doesn't have to worry about participating in the WBC or shouldering the load as the club's No. 1 starter now that the Orioles have signed veteran Kevin Millwood.

But after Thursday's disaster against the Blue Jays at Dunedin Stadium -- he allowed seven runs (six earned) on seven hits and three walks in three innings of the Orioles' 13-3 loss -- his numbers this spring are look eerily similar to 2009.

He has now given up 11 earned runs in 10 2/3 innings (9.28 ERA), including 10 in his past two starts. Last year in Grapefruit League games, he yielded 18 runs in 15 1/3 innings.

"I wouldn't know how to rate it," Guthrie said of Thursday's performance, which included serving up three homers and tossing 75 pitches. "I am concerned. I want to get people out, and I haven't gotten people out. So I'd like to pitch better."

Before the game, Trembley said Guthrie "is going to have a nice year." He pointed to Millwood's presence and Guthrie's tireless work ethic as motivation for the prediction.

"For me, what [the Millwood signing] does is it slots [Guthrie] in a better space so that he can be Jeremy Guthrie and he doesn't have to, maybe subconsciously, think there is more expected of him."

Guthrie, for his part, didn't use the WBC as an excuse. And he has been adamant that moving to the No. 2 slot in the rotation won't take any pressure off him because, he said, he isn't affected by outside pressure.

Simply put, Guthrie said he just didn't pitch well throughout much of 2009. And he classified Thursday's outing the same way. "I think the results speak for themselves. I pitched like the numbers show," he said. "I would say it was a little bit of everything. My pitches weren't crisp, and my location wasn't good."

When asked whether one pitch was giving him trouble, Guthrie quipped: "I wouldn't limit it to one pitch. I think I have shown the ability to struggle with all four."

He added that he didn't believe his current troubles are being caused by a mechanical flaw but said he would meet with pitching coach Rick Kranitz to discuss that possibility.

Spring struggles are fairly new to Guthrie. In 2007 and 2008, his first two preseasons with the Orioles, he allowed just five runs in 22 combined innings.

Now, Guthrie said, he needs to put Thursday's outing behind him. He likely will have three more starts before his regular-season debut, tentatively scheduled for April 7 against the Tampa Bay Rays.

"You'd like to be able to maintain [focus], but I am human, so when you have a tough outing you have to really focus and work to get out of your head and move forward with the next outing."

He's not the only one looking to his next time on the mound to see whether he can snap out of the early funk.

When Trembley was asked after Thursday's game whether he was concerned about Guthrie, the manager said only, "I'll be interested in seeing how he pitches the next time."

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