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Top of O's rotation brings tough turns

The Baltimore Sun

SEATTLE -- In organizational meetings during spring training, Orioles officials pondered slotting right-hander Steve Trachsel, and not Jeremy Guthrie, into the No. 1 spot in the rotation.

Their logic was that as a veteran, Trachsel, who had 141 wins entering the season, was better prepared to deal with the rigors of occupying that role. He wouldn't be overwhelmed by the high expectations or the challenge of facing the other team's top starter.

It's not that Orioles officials felt Guthrie would be, but the right-hander did have just one full major league season of experience and 27 career starts. And if there were a pitcher the organization was going to protect, it would be Guthrie, a significant part of the Orioles' rebuilding plan.

Ultimately, they decided to give Guthrie the ball on Opening Day, and the "staff ace" label that comes with such an assignment. Guthrie has hardly been overwhelmed, but he is realizing the difficult life of a No. 1 starter.

In Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field, Guthrie went 7 2/3 innings, the longest outing for an Orioles starter this year. He was dominant for much of the night, allowing just one earned run and three hits through seven innings. But the Mariners finally got to him in the eighth as Jose Vidro hit a two-out, bases-loaded single that scored two runs and was the difference in the game.

Just like that, Guthrie was saddled with his second loss and remained winless in five starts despite going at least six innings and allowing three earned runs or fewer in four of them. He is 0-2 with a 4.18 ERA.

"Anytime you pitch well and have your stuff working, you build on it," said Guthrie, adding that he appreciated manager Dave Trembley's decision to keep him in the game in the eighth inning to try to get out of the jam. "Obviously I haven't won a game, so I just build on trying to keep improving pitches, and get deeper in the game and give our team better chances to win. I think I've done that and hope to continue to do that."

In Guthrie's five starts, the Orioles have scored a total of 11 runs while he has been in the game. They've scored two runs or fewer for him in all but one of his outings. It's hardly surprising, considering Guthrie has been matched up twice each with Mariners phenom Felix Hernandez and Tampa Bay Rays burgeoning ace James Shields. His other start came against the Chicago White Sox's Gavin Floyd (Mount St. Joseph).

Guthrie also missed out on a victory April 11 when Jamie Walker surrendered a game-tying three-run homer to Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena.

"He's had some tough draws with the opposing pitcher," said Orioles designated hitter Aubrey Huff, whose sixth-inning solo homer Tuesday off Seattle's Hernandez tied the game at 2. "He's getting everybody's ace, but he's battling with them and keeping up with them. He's showing that he's one of the best in the league right now. Unfortunately, we're not able to push any runs across for him."

Orioles catcher Ramon Hernandez said that despite Guthrie's record, he has showed marked improvement from his rookie season, when he went 7-5 with a 3.70 ERA after the Orioles claimed him off waivers from the Cleveland Indians.

"He's getting a better changeup," Hernandez said. "[It's] turning out to be his second-best pitch. He's using all his pitches. He's not afraid to throw all his pitches. He really has a pretty good idea when he's pitching. He's getting better and better every time he pitches."

Hernandez said he has seen no sign of frustration from Guthrie, who has obviously had his share of hard luck this season.

"I think he's a very tough guy mentally," Hernandez said. "I don't think he gets mad, but I get mad for him. He throws seven innings and never gets a win. But you know what, if he can keep pitching games like that, quality starts, he's going to win a lot of games."

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