- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 1, 2007

BALTIMORE — It’s an hour before game time, and Baltimore Orioles rookie Jeremy Guthrie is standing on the first-base line doling out autographs.

A teenager thrusts forward a baseball card that trumpets Guthrie as a 2004 prospect with Cleveland. The pitcher politely informs the youth that he does not sign items depicting him in an Indians uniform, and instead inks the boy’s shirt with the words: “Go O’s. Jeremy Guthrie 46.”

It’s not that Guthrie hates the Indians, who gave him a $3 million signing bonus after making him the 22nd overall pick in the 2002 amateur draft. It’s just that the right-hander feels Cleveland never gave him a chance to show his stuff.

In four years with Cleveland, Guthrie received one major league start and compiled a 6.08 ERA over 16 appearances. Rather than offer him a new contract, the Indians cleared a roster spot by designating him for assignment in January.

The Orioles claimed the 28-year-old pitcher on waivers in what turned out to be the team’s best move during a busy offseason.

After an impressive spring training, Guthrie earned a spot in the Baltimore bullpen. Before the end of April, he replaced the injured Jaret Wright in the starting rotation, and now he’s the most consistent pitcher on the staff.

Guthrie is 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA overall, but in his last 10 starts he’s 3-0 with a 1.73 ERA. With a bit more hitting support, he could have 10 victories and be in contention for the American League rookie of the year.

“Phenomenal, phenomenal,” Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar said. “This guy’s turning into one of the most dominating pitchers in the big leagues. Great work ethic, great person. It’s an honor to have him on our team.”

The pleasure is all Guthrie‘s, who never got the opportunity to make that kind of impression while with Cleveland.

“The tough thing is, I started 99 percent of the time in my entire baseball career, yet I started only one time with the Indians,” he said. “How can you really expect to see what kind of pitcher you can be if you’re not performing in the role you are accustomed to and built for?”

Guthrie is convinced the Indians gave up on him after he struggled as a reliever and allowed four runs in 42/3 innings in his lone start, against Kansas City last August.

“I think a lot of it is I almost felt as if there was doubt every time I pitched in Cleveland,” he said. “I never really felt like there was anything I could do to erase those doubts. … A lot of times I was uncomfortable and nervous because of what I perceived as their expectations and their thoughts about me.”

With Baltimore, there were no preconceived notions. There were no guarantees, either. But it didn’t take long for him to convince the Orioles he had the stuff to pitch in the big leagues.

“First, he had to make the team,” veteran right-hander Steve Trachsel said. “Now, it’s at the point he’s very likely establishing himself as a starter on this team for the future.”

Guthrie doesn’t have a glowing won-loss record, and he doesn’t care. He’s just thankful that, for the first time, he’s getting the ball every fifth day for a major league club.

“I realize that I’m a rookie and I’m grateful for every time I can go out and limit a team to one or two runs. I don’t take that for granted, especially at this level,” he said. “I’m very happy to pitch well. That’s where my No. 1 focus is. If the wins come, that’s the cherry on top.”

Guthrie has pitched into the seventh inning in each of his last 10 starts, but more often than not, he’s been betrayed by the offense or the Baltimore bullpen. His run of misfortune has not escaped the notice of his teammates.

“This guy has given us a chance to win every start. I feel terrible for him,” Millar said.

“He’s basically been our ace. When he’s out there on the mound, he’s all business,” outfielder Jay Payton said. “He has great control, he has great stuff. His location is what’s been so phenomenal. He’s been hitting his spots, he’s taken the challenge, he’s stepped up.”

Guthrie took off 1999-2000 for a Mormon mission to Spain after his freshman year at Brigham Young, then returned to play for Stanford before the Indians took him in the draft. Along the way, he learned that there’s more to pitching than throwing 98 mph.

“I wish I had half the stuff he’s got. Plus, he’s really smart, so he has a really good game plan,” Trachsel said. “To see him changing speeds on his fastball, switching back and forth, two seams, four seams, it’s really something.”

Against the New York Yankees on Tuesday, Guthrie allowed two runs in 61/3 innings. Although he didn’t get the victory, he did leave a lasting impression.

“Good stuff. He can match you hard. He didn’t waste any time and threw a lot of strikes,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “We fought him, but he was very impressive. No question.”

Perhaps the Indians were too quick to give up on their prized pitching prospect.

“When you look at how it went down, you can’t get frustrated,” Guthrie said. “You can only look at the situation and see that it didn’t really present an opportunity for me. So I was excited to move on.”

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