August 22, 2008
By David Driver
For the Tidings
Used with permission
BALTIMORE — Maryland native Dave Johnson pitched five seasons in the Major Leagues and made his debut with the Orioles in 1989.
Now nearly 20 years later, as a color analyst on radio and television for the Orioles, he has watched up close as Ashland High graduate Jeremy Guthrie has become — in order — a Baltimore starter, Oriole ace and one of the most effective pitchers in the Majors in just 15 months.
So how did Guthrie, 29, claimed off waivers from Cleveland before the 2007 season, become an ace after he began last season in the bullpen for the Orioles?
"All he has done is get a consistent chance," said Johnson, not to be confused with former Oriole second baseman/manager and current U.S. Olympic team manager Davey Johnson. "Too many times Major League clubs do not give a chance (for a pitcher) to go out and go through ups and downs."
"He was a No. 1 pick. We are not talking about a right-handed pitcher with an 83 mph fastball," added Johnson, whose son Steve pitches in the20Class A California League with the Dodgers. "He is very athletic. I don't know what in the world people in Cleveland were thinking when they put him on waivers."
Cleveland manager Eric Wedge all but admitted the Indians made a mistake.
"I'm happy for him. He's a good kid," Wedge told reporters after Guthrie beat the Indians 6-1 on Aug. 13. "Sometimes it just isn't a guy's time with a team and he gets away. We've got players like that from other teams. It happens."
Does Guthrie think the Tribe made a mistake? "I can't speak for them," he said after Monday's game against the Red Sox.
The right-handed starter was drafted in 2002 out of Stanford by the Indians and he made his big league debut in 2004. He pitched in 16 games with Cleveland before he was picked up by Baltimore.
Guthrie, who leads the American League with 19 quality starts through Tuesday, is slated to face the New York Yankees at home on Saturday.
"I just try to go out there and make pitches," he said of his success. "The goal is get better every day. The goal (the rest of the year) is to go out there and pitch deep in the games and give our team a chance to win. You just take it one start at a time."
Guthrie's latest gem came at home Monday when he allowed just two runs, both on solo home runs, in seven innings in a 6-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox and starter Jon Lester. "I threw two fastballs that got too much of the plate. They made me pay," Guthrie said.
He is 10-9 this season with an 3.15 ERA.
"It's a fine line between throwing a lot of strikes and throwing real hittable strikes," Guthrie told reporters after the Boston game. "It's a real tough line between too good of a strike and not good enough for a strike."
"Guthrie and Lester going at it, you knew it wasn't going to be a high-scoring affair," Oriole first baseman Kevin Millar told reporters after the game. "Those guys can pitch."
"Another quality start, keeps you in the game, works fast, fields his position. There were probably a couple of pitches he wants back, but you hold them to two runs in seven innings — heck of a job," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said.
Trembley was the Class AA manager of the Bowie Baysox in 2003 and 2004, the same two seasons Guthrie spent part of the year with Class AA Akron, also in the Eastern League. Trembley has told reporters how he remembered seeing Guthrie run on the streets in the morning near the visiting team hotel in Annapolis.
When Guthrie was available on waivers Trembley, a career minor league manager until 2007, suggested to the Baltimore front office that the Orioles should grab the Oregon native.
Guthrie has made that decision pay off for the Orioles, trying for their first winning season since 1997. Guthrie, with a fastball in the mid-90s, recently began to use a hes itation with his left leg as he delivers the ball to the plate. He used that delivery rarely against the Red Sox.
"I don't understand it," said Johnson, who added that he sees no purpose in that wrinkle.
But overall Johnson, who also pitched for Pittsburgh and Detroit, has been very impressed with Guthrie.
"He has a good slider when he gets on top of it. He has command of his fastball. He knows how to pitch," Johnson said.
Guthrie started the season slow, losing seven of his first 10 decisions, but he turned it on after the All-Star break to emerge as one of the game's most consistent starters. In one three-game stretch, Guthrie went 3-0 with a 1.21 ERA. Now, he ranks third in the American League in innings pitched (170), eighth in ERA and is tied for first with 26 starts.
Those impressive numbers are not a surprise to one Major League scout.
"He is probably one of the most underrated pitchers in the game of baseball," the scout said. "He is probably one of the 10 best pitchers in the American League."