Mounting concern over Guthrie

When Robinson Cano launched that 3-1 pitch over the fence Monday night, you could almost feel Orioles fans confidence in Jeremy Guthrie drop another notch.

He has not done much this spring to provide fans with hope that he will have a bounce back season.

But I do think the concern, some would say panic, over Guthrie's struggles, is a little over the top.

*Why is he being handed a starting rotation spot?

That is the question from some fans. He does have a track record of success, two years where his ERA was among the top 15 in the American League. It's on his resume and you can't take that away from him.

That's the top 15 in the league. This is a not a pitcher with only potential, but one that has pitched well in baseball's toughest division.

He was also the only O's starter to pitch 200 innings last year and make every start. In a rotation featuring young pitchers, having someone pile up innings with durability is going to be very important. There is clear value in a hurler that can give you that many innings.

*But his spring performance has been so poor.

No question that is true, but he was not going to lose his job in March. Monday night he pitched with a gusting wind blowing out and got squeezed a bit by the home plate ump. Not an excuse for his poor outing, but contributing factors.

*How many starts will he get before the O's have to make a move.

That question is complicated. It's hard to put a number on it for me and probably for Dave Trembley and Andy MacPhail as well. But his grip on that spot is not nearly as firm as it was a few weeks ago.

Other factors could impact this decision. If the other four starters are all pitching well early on, Guthrie could be given more time to solve his struggles.

If the rotation as a whole is shaky early and the team is losing a lot, the opposite could be true. Another factor that impacts Guthrie is how well Chris Tillman and others are doing at Triple-A. They could put heat on Guthrie and others in Baltimore by what they do with the Tides.

*Couldn't the O's just move Guthrie to the pen and give someone else his starting spot?

That could happen, but it likely won't early on. Also, if Guthrie is moved to the bullpen, someone from the pen has to be removed from the active roster.

*So why can't Guthrie regain his form from 2007 and 2008?

If you have that answer, then rush it to the Warehouse and fast.

Among the theories:
*The AL hitters have caught up to him.
*His confidence is shot.
*He's just not as good as it looked like he was.
*The pressure of holding the title "team ace" proved to be too much to deal with.

Here's a theory a friend of mind presented. Guthrie does not throw enough off-speed pitches and too many of his offerings are of a similar speed.

I actually think there is something to that. How often do you watch a game and think to yourself, "that's a nice changeup" by Guthrie. He does throw the pitch but to me it seems not nearly enough.

Maybe it's best not to always challenge the hitter with heat on a 3-1 or 2-0 count. This is the AL. Sometimes offspeed is the best option. Just another theory on the table.

Meanwhile, I am not the least bit worried about Chris Tillman's confidence after being sent to Triple-A.

Things can change fast in this game and he could be back in the rotation within weeks. He doesn't have much to prove with Norfolk, but whatever the club wants him to refine or work on, he needs to get it done.

The front office will be watching to see how he deals with the news and looking for the best response - you know the one where he takes it all out on Triple-A hitters.

The kid got enough of a big league taste last year, that I suspect that is exactly what he is going to do. He's going to have a long career with the Orioles. It's just gotten sidetracked for awhile.

What is your take on Guthrie's struggles? Could he do well with a bullpen role? Why did he pitch so well in 2007 and 2008, but not now? How will Tillman handle his move back to Triple-A?

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