A piece of graphing paper hangs on the top cubicle of Jeremy Guthrie’s locker. A fan sent it to him. The paper charts his win-loss record since he became a big-league regular in 2007. On Friday afternoon, he turned to glance at it, as an observer noted the column on the left has finally begun to exceed the column on the right.
“Only three times has it happened,” Guthrie said. “It’s only happened three out of eight.”
Inside a baseball clubhouse, Guthrie exudes a self-awareness that stands out. He achieved his first winning record as a rookie in Baltimore. He would not record this feat again until the Royals acquired him five years later. During his two full seasons in Kansas City, Guthrie has gone 28-23 with a 4.08 ERA. He has tallied 414 1/3 innings. He has provided veteran stability at a relatively affordable rate.
He also may be entering his final season as a Royal. The club holds a $10 million option on him for 2016, with a $3.2 million buyout, as the final part of a three-year, $25.2 million contract he struck after 2012.
The four other members of the starting rotation are under team control through next season. The organization also hopes for contributions from rising prospects like Brandon Finnegan, Kyle Zimmer, Sean Manaea and Miguel Almonte. Guthrie revived his career in Kansas City, but he may have to continue it elsewhere.
When the regular season begins, he will assume his regular position in the back of the club’s rotation. Guthrie threw four innings in a minor-league game on Friday afternoon. After missing a start due to a stomach virus, which the Royals feared might be appendicitis, he boosted his pitch count to 59. He was also spared the Cactus League ignominy his fellow starters have suffered this week.
Jason Vargas yielded nine runs on Thursday and saw his ERA bloat to 17.55. Yordano Ventura has a 10.29 ERA. Edinson Volquez has a 9.72 ERA. The sight is not pretty, but manager Ned Yost insists he lacks concern.
“I don’t worry about it,” Yost said. “I’ve been through spring trainings at the major-league level for, I don’t know, 25, 28 years. I’ve seen many veteran pitchers have horrible springs, to the point where you’re like ‘Man …’ and then as soon as the bell rings, bam, they’re phenomenal.”
One reason the Royals appreciate pitchers like Guthrie is they provide stability. Guthrie resembles a metronome in his stability. Save for a nightmarish stint in Colorado, he has thrown at least 200 innings in five of the last six seasons. He pitches to contact, a style which benefits from the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium and the excellent defense of his teammates.
He is reliable in an age when a new pitcher appears to break down every other day. His lone stint on the disabled list in the last five seasons resulted from a bicycle accident. His fastball velocity has resided around 92 mph for years. Guthrie will turn 36 in April, but insists he feels “much younger than my age.”
His Mormon faith plays a role in his health, he believes. He preserved his arm during two years on a mission in Spain. He does not drink alcohol or use tobacco.
“I try to live in a way that’s healthy,” Guthrie said. “I try to put certain things in my body, and certain things not into my body.”
Despite his age, Guthrie retained his effectiveness throughout the second half of last season. As Vargas ebbed and Danny Duffy rested his sore shoulder, Guthrie shined. During his last 11 outings, he went 7-2 with a 3.06 ERA. He pitched the clinching game in Chicago. The team trusted him to start the seventh game of the World Series.
Across the past 18 years, he’s been drafted three times, traded twice and dumped on the waiver wire once. He understands the business of baseball. This could be his last season as a Royal. He does not intend to approach it any differently.
“Having a family, you have to think about that kind of stuff,” Guthrie said. “It doesn’t affect what you can do. So. Yeah.”