Guthrie gets Opening Day call
Young right-hander has improved by leaps and bounds
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The Orioles tabbed Jeremy Guthrie as their Opening Day starter on Saturday, completing his metamorphosis from waiver claim to presumptive staff ace. Guthrie joined the Orioles after the 2006 season and pitched well enough in 2007 to claw his way toward the front of the rotation, but he still didn't expect to take the ball in the season opener.
"The biggest reason is probably the Erik Bedard trade," Guthrie said on Saturday, recognizing his former teammate. "Because of my amount of experience, to have an Opening Day assignment is not something that I necessarily anticipated by any means -- even when we traded Erik. I thought it was still a long shot that was the way chips would fall."
After his success and Bedard's trade to Seattle, Guthrie was regarded by many analysts as a favorite to start on Opening Day. Baltimore manager Dave Trembley initially said that any of his four determined starters could pitch in the season opener and guarded the Guthrie news carefully until Saturday morning.
"I thought about the entire situation for a long time, and I just think at this particular point in time it's well deserved," Trembley said. "The guy certainly showed us what he could do last season."
The 28-year-old enjoyed a late maturation, providing a return far better than his Minor League resume, which includes a 40-36 career record and a 4.40 ERA, would seemed to have forecast. Guthrie needed three tours in Triple-A to master that level and got three auditions in the Major Leagues before finding a way to stick with the Orioles.
Guthrie began last season as a long reliever and graduated to the rotation by the beginning of May. The right-hander provided a capable support option to Bedard for most of the season and finished second among American League rookies in ERA (3.70), strikeouts (123) and innings pitched (175 1/3) and tied for third in wins (seven) and starts (26).
"I think it forces you to be grateful," said Guthrie, comparing his current slot to where he was last year. "To be able to look back one year and see where you were and look where you are now, it makes you grateful. Hopefully, it makes you realize the importance of hard work and believing in yourself and really putting in the effort to get to this point."
All of that success was expected years ago for Guthrie, who was the 22nd overall pick in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. He found himself blocked and unable to break through with Cleveland, his former organization, and credits his move to Baltimore with helping him get comfortable and find his best form as a Major Leaguer.
"Hopefully, you learn from your struggles. That's important," Guthrie said. "I don't think you can deny the fact that having gone through them changes the person you are and changes the way you react to certain situations. That makes you a stronger person and a stronger pitcher. I would have rather not gone through them but still been at the same point."
Pitching coach Rick Kranitz was involved in the decision and said that Guthrie fits not only as a pitcher, but as a symbol of where this organization is now and where it's headed in the immediate future.
"I think the fans can look at him and see the direction of where we're going," Kranitz said. "I think we put a guy a out there that is extremely aggressive. He's going to be here a long time. He's a competitor. He's everything you would want in a pitcher."
Trembley agreed, but refused to give any indication on who will follow Guthrie in the rotation. Daniel Cabrera and Adam Loewen will likely pitch in the front half of the rotation, with veteran Steve Trachsel starting in the back end. Those plans will be saved for another day, and Trembley said on Saturday that Guthrie deserves an exclusive stage of his own.
"I think what's really happened here is that he's gotten an opportunity and literally made the most of it," said Trembley. "I think you know what you're going to get from him. He's going to compete, and I think he's going to give you a chance to win when he pitches. And I think the team knows that when they play behind him."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.