Orioles' Guthrie not shrinking from duty as he nears dubious mark
Jeremy Guthrie could become just the second pitcher in 30 years to lose 20 games
He says he will not ask to come out of the starting rotation for Baltimore
Guthrie takes comfort in the definition of success offered by John Wooden
BALTIMORE -- Ask the Baltimore Orioles' Jeremy Guthrie if he's concerned about the possibility of becoming only the second pitcher in the past 30 years to be saddled with a 20-loss season, and he emphatically replies, "No, I'm not.''
Really? Why not?
As an answer, Guthrie pulls a book from his locker in the home clubhouse at Camden Yards and reads a quote from John Wooden's My Personal Best, which explains that the legendary UCLA basketball coach thinks the definition of success should be measured by effort, not results.
"I've memorized it, but not word-for-word,'' Guthrie says.
Then, Guthrie opens to page 178 and reads Wooden's words: "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.''
It is much-needed advice for a pitcher who hasn't had many other kinds of success the past few years. Guthrie has had losing records in each of his previous three seasons, finishing with 12, 17 (a major-league-high) and 14 losses. This season, Guthrie is 6-17 and is trying to avoid becoming the first pitcher since the Detroit Tigers' Mike Maroth lost 21 in 2003 to register 20 losses in a season.
Guthrie said that, no matter what, he will pitch every fifth day during September, meaning that he's scheduled for five more starts vs. the Rays twice, Blue Jays, Red Sox and Tigers.
"I'm not thinking about those [20 losses],'' Guthrie said. "You can't fear that. I'm going to take the ball every fifth day and not dwell on what might happen. It is my responsibility to pitch. I enjoy it. I enjoy competition, and I'm not going to ask to be taken out of the rotation.''
Orioles manager Buck Showalter says he's not going to remove Guthrie from the rotation to keep him from reaching the Big 2-0.
"He understands the situation,'' Showalter said. "He knows that he can't worry about a number. Yes, as a pitcher, he gets the win or the loss, but really, that's a team stat. There's a lot to be said for run support and how a team plays behind a pitcher.
"And, that doesn't mean he hasn't had his problems. He knows that if he pitches consistently, a pitcher's chance of getting a W increases. I think he's going to finish strong. I hope so, for his sake, for our sake.''
Guthrie, 32, has been the Orioles' hard-luck pitcher. His record is laced with good pitching performances, but few wins to show for it. In fact, aside from his won-loss record, the rest of his numbers are fairly respectable. He is putting together his third consecutive season of at least 200 innings, has been the Orioles' most reliable starter (he leads the team with 28 starts) and in some ways their best, too, topping the staff in WHIP and strikeouts and ranking third in ERA, just 0.16 behind leader Alfredo Simon.
He has certainly pitched well enough to post more than six wins. The Orioles have scored 103 runs in his 28 starts, including 10 in his first eight, while he's in the game. In six of Guthrie's starts, the Orioles haven't scored.
When the Orioles and Guthrie beat the Washington Nationals 8-3 in a May interleague game, the eight runs were one more than they had scored for Guthrie in the previous seven games combined.
Guthrie is an example of why pitchers shouldn't be judged solely on their won-loss record. In April, he had a 2.53 ERA, but was 1-3. The next month, he had a 3.77 ERA and was 1-4.
He had six shutout innings vs. the Boston Red Sox and wound up with a no-decision. He gave up two runs in seven innings to the Minnesota Twins and wound up with the loss. He lost a complete-game shutout to Tampa Bay's Jeremy Hellickson. He allowed three runs in eighth innings against the Seattle Mariners only to lose.
Of course, his record isn't solely the result of bad luck. He's allowed six or more runs five times. He gave up a career-high 11 hits in a loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and lost to Detroit after blowing a five-run lead. His last three monthly ERAs have been 5.79, 4.79 and 5.51. Opponents are hitting .284 against him at home.
His teammates, though, say Guthrie has pitched well enough not to be a 20-game loser.
"He's not pitching like some one who could lose 20 games,'' Orioles catcher Matt Wieters said. "We haven't been supportive of him. Now, we look at it that we should try to get him 10 wins, not 20 losses.''
Orioles infielder Mark Reynolds said the team has let Guthrie down. "There always seems to be one pitcher on every staff that doesn't get run support, and he's been that guy. Wins and losses are almost luck of the draw. Pitchers' records don't mean much in the grand scheme of things.''
In Seattle in May, Guthrie was leading 2-0 in the eighth inning when the Mariners' Justin Smoak hit a home run to beat him 3-2. All three runs were unearned.
"That's the one that sticks with me,'' Reynolds said.
Guthrie said he can't blame any one for his predicament: "Would I like to have more wins? Absolutely. Would I like to be 17-6 instead of 6-17? Absolutely. But, it hasn't worked out that way.''
Guthrie can take comfort in the fact that some memorable pitchers have had dreadful seasons. Just three years ago, Justin Verlander led the league with 17 losses and this year is the runaway AL Cy Young favorite. Steve Carlton once lost 20 games the year after winning the NL Cy Young and it proved to be nothing but a speed bump on his road to the Hall of Fame. And Don Larsen lost an Orioles-record 21 games in 1954, two years before throwing a perfect game in the World Series.
In Guthrie's most recent start, on Sunday night in Tampa, he wasn't sharp at all. He gave up seven runs in five innings as the Orioles lost to the Rays, 8-1, and he moved within three of the dubious 20-loss mark.
Losing was a familiar feeling for Guthrie on Sunday, but he refuses to back down.
"I'd love to win the game, but, as a pitcher, that's out of my control, unless I throw a shutout,'' Guthrie said. "As long as you leave with a lead, you've done your job. I'm not concerned about the numbers. It makes no sense dwelling on something you can't control.''
Mel Antonen is a baseball reporter in Washington, D.C., and can be heard on the Sirius-XM Radio network.
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