Guthrie not only O's ace, but mentor
Club counting on right-hander to guide up-and-coming pitchers
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- It's a narrow high-traffic aisle, a location in which you may expect to find an unheralded waiver claim but not an Opening Day starter. Jeremy Guthrie still dresses in the first few lockers of the home clubhouse at Fort Lauderdale Stadium, a vestige of his humble beginnings and a reminder of how far he's traveled.
"They keep putting me here," Guthrie said Sunday of his unorthodox placement in the home team's clubhouse. "It's treated me well so far, so we'll stay here until it treats me poorly. This is where it all began with the Orioles."
The rest, as they say, is recent history. Guthrie started his first season in Baltimore as a reliever, but quickly graduated to the rotation, and last year he took another step forward. He earned the bid as Opening Day starter and then proved it on the mound, finishing in the top 20 in ERA (3.63) and quality starts (19) for American League pitchers.
Now he's come full circle. Guthrie isn't just regarded as Baltimore's best pitcher, he's regarded as the team's best potential mentor. The Orioles stationed first-round Draft pick Brian Matusz in the front of the clubhouse, right next to Guthrie, where the two can discuss their craft and anything else that might come up during the spring.
"If I can provide anything that's helpful, absolutely, I'm happy to do that," said Guthrie. "I'm not a guy that can necessarily go around with two years of experience and impart my wisdom to anybody, but if I can be of help, I'm happy to, because I remember a lot of guys with the Indians who were able to help me and make me more comfortable."
Guthrie cited several pitchers of that ilk, chief among them Jake Westbrook, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Bob Wickman. Now that he's in the role of elder statesman among the O's starters, Guthrie just wants to continue along the same path that has brought him resounding success over the past two seasons.
"Same idea, same goals," Guthrie said before Sunday's workout. "Stay healthy and see if I can help the team throughout the season and give us a chance to win. That's ultimately what you can do as a pitcher."
Much of the preseason talk surrounding the Orioles has centered on the unproven nature of the rotation, a group that includes Guthrie, Japanese free agent Koji Uehara and three bold-faced question marks. Baltimore has 37 pitchers in camp this spring, and manager Dave Trembley is happy to have Guthrie at the top of his staff.
"Guthrie is a proven innings guy -- and he gives you a quality start more times than not," said Trembley, who has lauded Guthrie's competitive nature in the past. "If you can pencil that in along with Koji, and if we can find a couple other guys that might take some of the appearances off the bullpen early in the year, we need to do that."
Baltimore's next wave of pitching prospects -- headed by Matusz, Chris Tillman and Jake Arrieta -- are expected to begin trickling into the rotation over the next few seasons. Guthrie, who still has at least three seasons until he becomes a free agent, will likely be the linchpin that helps them to adjust to the big league level.
The 29-year-old said Sunday that he was pleased with the team's offseason moves, lionizing a winter spent on adding impact defenders at shortstop (Cesar Izturis) and left field (Felix Pie). And he also said that if things break right, the Orioles can be better than many casual baseball fans expect -- even in the American League East.
"I think we've made some great moves," Guthrie said. "We've really put together a solid group behind the pitchers, and I think we'll hit the ball as well as we did last year. Pitching-wise, we're giving a lot of guys an opportunity. Hopefully, everyone will come out of it a lot better with the competition and with trying to work real hard to earn a spot on the team."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.