If Jeremy Guthrie is at all worried about what will happen in the next couple of days - whether he’ll buck improbable odds to snag a 25-man roster spot with the Nationals after coming to camp as a non-roster invitee and forcing his way into a crowded bullpen picture - the 37-year-old isn’t showing it.
Before Friday’s exhibition game at Nationals Park against the Red Sox was rained out, the right-hander was folding clothes at his locker stall, talking and joking with his teammates. It’s the kind of behavior you’d expect out of a guy with 12 major league seasons under his belt. There was nary a hint of nervousness at his situation.
The Nationals are still deciding on the final makeup of their bullpen and whether they have a spot for Guthrie as a long man and spot starter. But only months after his career apparently bottomed out with a 7-9 record and 6.57 ERA in 20 Triple-A starts for the Padres and Marlins organizations, Guthrie feels good about his chances to stick with the Nats.
“I’m extremely confident right now, probably the most I’ve been in a long time,” he said. “When I’m on the mound, I feel like I have the pitches to get people out. I feel like I can locate. I feel confident and I feel like there’s a little different swings to the hitters than maybe what I’ve seen the past couple of years.”
Guthrie started Game 7 of the 2014 World Series for the Royals, then was part of their rotation for most of their 2015 world championship season. But he departed Kansas City as a free agent and had trouble finding a job. The best he could do was a minor league contract, but the results weren’t good, and he opted out of his Padres deal with Triple-A El Paso in June and his Marlins deal at Triple-A New Orleans in August.
Though the numbers were unsightly, Guthrie didn’t feel like he was done. He readily admits that he didn’t handle the disappointment of 2016 very well, but thinks the experience taught him something he could use when he decided to take one more stab at the majors.
“It was frustrating, but it’s certainly helping me with this year. I wish I would have pitched better and I would have gotten called up and it would have been better. But it didn’t. ... But the lessons learned last year, I don’t know that they’ll apply to my life in 10 years.”
Over the winter, Guthrie was determined to prove he had something left in the tank. But how do you do that when you did nothing but struggle at Triple-A? Guthrie flew to Australia, where he went 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA in three games for the Melbourne Aces and pitched in the Australian Baseball League’s All-Star Game.
Things clicked across the Pacific Ocean, and Guthrie felt much better than he did while scuffling mightily against Triple-A hitters last year. When he signed a minor league deal with the Nationals in early February, most observers thought he was a veteran taking one last fling at the majors - until he posted a 2.41 ERA in nine games, including two starts, during Grapefruit League play.
“I’m extremely grateful,” he said. “I feel like all the things I worked on in the winter came together all in one six-week period. That’s what I felt like should happen, that’s the way I pitched in Australia. All those things I was trying to apply those last three months, getting ready for spring training, putting them on display, I was very pleased with the way it went.”
Now he’s the only non-roster invitee left in Nats camp. The release of right-hander Vance Worley, his chief competition for a long relief role, earlier this week gave him better odds of breaking camp with the Nationals. But having his status unresolved isn’t weighing heavily on Guthrie.
“I got plenty of practice in (being) up in the air last year, so I’m accustomed to it at this point,” he said.
And knowing that he has done everything in power to make the Nationals’ decision a difficult one is much better than the way Guthrie felt last summer, when he wondered whether his career might be at an end.
“Last year, I didn’t take a very good mentality,” Guthrie said. “I worried more about decisions and what could happen. What if this happens? What if that happens? Where do I want to be? This year, I have a clear mind as to what I’d like to have happen and I’m willing to sit there let other people control that, aside from what I can control on the field. I feel that there’s something to be done here, but I’m putting that in the Lord’s hands and I’m very comfortable with that. ... If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen, and if it’s not what I think it is, I’m very content with what the other plan is - be with my family and be with my kids all the time and start that chapter of my life.”
If he doesn’t make the 25-man roster, Guthrie doesn’t sound like a guy willing to go to Triple-A Syracuse as an insurance policy. It’s not that he’s too good to work his way back up in the minors - after all, that was the plan last season - but he has to keep family considerations in mind. The Guthries relocated recently to Portland, Oregon, and that’s where the veteran pitcher will take his first steps into his post-baseball life - whether that’s next year or next month.
“It’s probably not a long-term option for me,” Guthrie said when asked about a minor league assignment. “My idea was to come in here and make this team. My wife has sacrificed a lot throughout my career - but specifically last year as I toiled in El Paso and New Orleans. She and I both felt like that probably wasn’t the best thing for our family at this stage, and I agreed. So coming to spring training and competing was something she was very supportive of with the understanding that this summer wouldn’t play out like it did last year.”
Right now, Guthrie looks like he’s won a spot in the Nats bullpen. Manager Dusty Baker likes to carry a long man, and there’s no one else remaining who can fill that role. But Guthrie has been around baseball long enough to know that there are no guarantees, no matter how impressive he’s been this spring or how well he appears to fill a void.
“My gut’s not right very often,” he said. “I’m not worried about my gut, I’m worried about my arm and what the ball looks like when it goes against hitters’ bats. But right now, I feel very good.”
@MarkZuckerman Not necessarily but gave me a handshake and kind word as they make final decisions.-- Jeremy Guthrie (@TheRealJGuts) March 31, 2017