Jeremy Guthrie saw a pair of reporters approaching his locker, tucked into the back corner of the visitors clubhouse on Saturday at Fenway Park, and he decided to hide. Guthrie wedged himself between a pillar and a locker, out of the view of any prying eyes. When his hiding spot was discovered, Guthrie greeted his visitors with a smile.
A day earlier, the Royals had removed him from the starting rotation. Kris Medlen will start in his place on Monday. The maneuver did not surprise Guthrie, who’s 8-7 with a 5.65 ERA.
“I didn’t have a reaction,” he said before Saturday’s game against Boston. “There was no screaming or yelling. No crying. No laughing.”
Manager Ned Yost has framed the decision as an opportunity to observe Medlen, who has pitched in relief since joining the team after the All-Star break. Guthrie eased the transition with a series of stumbles since the season began. He could not finish the fifth inning against the Reds on Wednesday.
“Guys have off years or off months,” Yost said. “He’s had some good starts. He’s had some poor ones, too.”
For months Yost pointed to Guthrie’s one-inning, 11-run blowup in Yankee Stadium on May 25 as the anchor weighing down his statistics. But in his next 14 outings, Guthrie posted a 5.02 ERA.
Despite his struggles, Guthrie remained in the starting rotation after the Royals acquired Johnny Cueto. Chris Young carried his 3.42 ERA as a starter into the bullpen instead. Young has become an afterthought on the roster, used as a reliever just twice since his last start on July 28.
Guthrie predicted a similar fate. He shrugged off questions about how he would adjust to pitching as a reliever, which he has done 27 times in his 12-year career. He does not expect to pitch much. Yost classified Guthrie as a long reliever in the bullpen, and Guthrie translated that into realpolitik.
“Let’s be honest, they don’t need long guys here, which is good,” Guthrie said. “Pitchers have been throwing good, going deep. Kris Medlen and Chris Young have thrown five times in two months.”
Guthrie revived his career after the Royals acquired him in 2012. He was midway through an excruciating season in Colorado. Coors Field tormented him and his ERA inflated to 6.35.
The Royals traded Jonathan Sanchez in exchange for Guthrie. Sanchez would only pitch eight more games in the majors. Guthrie experienced a relative renaissance. The Royals signed him to a three-year, $25 million contract before 2013.
From 2012 to 2014, he went 33-26 with a 3.92 ERA. He reaped the benefits of his world-class defenders and the spacious confines of Kauffman Stadium. Yost trusted him enough to pitch the seventh game of last year’s World Series.
Guthrie turned 36 in April, but he showed little physical evidence of a decline. His fastball velocity stayed steady at nearly 92 mph, close to his average heater during the past three seasons. He is a physical marvel. Since 2009, his only stint on the disabled list stems from an accident in Colorado when he crashed his bicycle.
Yet he has not been able to fool hitters in 2015. Guthrie lacks an arsenal that generates swings and misses, so he must rely upon soft contact and tidy defense. His teammates supplied the latter, but Guthrie could not induce the former. His command also became less reliable.
Guthrie still plays a vital role within the team’s framework. Midway through 2014, he usurped James Shields’ leadership role when it came to the team’s elaborate postgame celebrations. Guthrie continued the practice into this season, even as his own performance faded.
“Disappointment comes from a lack of preparation and a lack of work,” Guthrie said. “At the end of the day, I’d like to pitch better. I’ve done everything I can do to that. And I will continue to do that.”