Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Guthrie Finally Falters in Eighth Inning

SEATTLE -- Jeremy Guthrie may be getting better each time out, but he doesn't have much to show for it. Baltimore's Opening Day starter went deep into the game for the third straight time Tuesday night and still went home winless. Guthrie held a tie game into the eighth inning but fell short of stopping a late Seattle rally in Baltimore's 4-2 loss.

"I don't think he gets mad, but I get mad for him," said Baltimore catcher Ramon Hernandez. "He's throwing seven-plus innings and never gets a win. But you know what? If he keeps pitching games like that -- quality starts -- he's going to win a lot of games. All you've got to do is throw a lot of innings and keep the game close, and I think he'll be all right."

Guthrie has followed that exact recipe in recent weeks, but he's yet to come out with a win. The right-hander pitched into the seventh inning and took no-decisions in each of his previous three starts -- two of which ended up as one-run victories for the Orioles. His latest start had the same feel to it but ended on a dissonant note in the eighth inning.

Seattle shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt hit a leadoff double, but Guthrie settled down to get outs on a popup and a line drive. The Orioles elected to intentionally walk Raul Ibanez at that point, bringing up Adrian Beltre, who was 0-for-12 in his career against Guthrie. Beltre worked a walk, and Jose Vidro broke things open with a two-run single.

"Unfortunately, we wanted to bust him in, and I couldn't really get that pitch in for a strike," Guthrie said of Beltre. "The first two were close, and the last two that I ended up throwing inside were called strikes. That was the idea. Obviously, we thought we had a better chance going after him, and I just couldn't execute the fastball for a strike and make him swing."

Even after the Beltre at-bat, Baltimore manager Dave Trembley elected to stick with his starter. The Orioles (11-9) had southpaw specialist Jamie Walker warmed up and ready to go but chose instead to stay with Guthrie against Vidro, a switch-hitter who has hit .305 against left-handers and .299 against right-handers for his career.

"If you go by history, you probably want to turn him around," Trembley said of Vidro. "So far this year, he's hitting 200 points less left-handed than he is right-handed. And as well as Guthrie pitched right there, I don't want to bring someone in and have them walk the guy or give up his runs. I felt Guthrie had pitched well enough to win it or lose it on his own."

"It shows a lot of confidence," added Guthrie. "Once I walked Adrian, at that point I kind of felt like, 'Hopefully he'll give me a chance to put us in position to win or to lose.' I created the mess myself. It just didn't work out."

Guthrie's balancing act started early, thanks to a leadoff triple by Ichiro Suzuki in the first inning. Seattle (11-10) wound up tying the game on a ground ball, and Guthrie (0-2) didn't allow another hit until the fifth inning. The former first-round Draft pick made a spectacular play on a ground ball in that inning, charging to third base for a rare unassisted forceout.

The game turned right after that on a throwing error by Hernandez. The backstop tried to throw behind Ichiro at first base and tossed the ball into right field, allowing Betancourt to score easily from second. Baltimore would tie the game in the sixth on a solo home run by Aubrey Huff, and Guthrie retired the next six batters he faced.

"He gave it the best he had. He threw a great ballgame," Hernandez said. "That changeup is turning into the second-best pitch he's got now, and he's using all of his pitches. He's not afraid to use all of his pitches. He really has a good idea. He's getting better and better every time he pitches."

Baltimore's offense wasted several opportunities to break the game open, with the first one coming in the first inning. Brian Roberts singled and scored on a hit by Kevin Millar, but the Orioles wound up leaving two runners in scoring position. Baltimore left the bases loaded in the second and ran into a line-drive double play in the eighth.

Seattle starter Felix Hernandez kept the Orioles off base and off-balance, surviving an early blip of control to work through the seventh inning. Hernandez struck out seven batters and only allowed one baserunner to reach scoring position after the second inning. Arthur Rhodes pitched the eighth inning for the win, and J.J. Putz worked the ninth for his second save of the year.

"Early, he was throwing as hard as he could," Trembley said of Hernandez. "We got his pitch count up. I don't think he was as sharp as he's been. He's coming off a couple great outings back to back. ... He got them deep in the game, but he wasn't as good as he's been. That kind of gets you spoiled a little bit [and] just ought to tell you how good he really is."


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