By Jim Ingraham
April 27, 2004
CHICAGO–This wasn’t the way it was supposed to work. By now, Jeremy Guthrie was either supposed to be in the major leagues, or packing his bags to go there.
Instead, the Indians’ former No. 1 draft pick floundered at Triple-A Buffalo and was reassigned to Double-A Akron Monday.
On Sunday, Guthrie made his fourth start of the season and took the loss as Buffalo was roughed up, 9-6, by Ottawa. Guthrie pitched four innings, giving up eight runs on nine hits and four walks.
In his four starts thus far, Guthrie is 1-2, 7.91. He is averaging nearly one walk per inning (18 walks in 19 1/3 innings). He has also hit four batters and thrown two wild pitches.
Drafted out of Stanford by the Indians in the first round–the 22nd player taken overall–in 2002, Guthrie appeared to be on the fast track to the big leagues last year. He started the season at Akron, and in 10 games went 6-2, 1.44. Indians officials expected Guthrie to spend the second half of the season at Buffalo, and then come to training camp in 2004 and compete for a spot in the Tribe’s rotation.
But then Guthrie hit the wall.
He was promoted to Buffalo on May 25, and that’s when his troubles began. He was 4-9, 6.52 in 18 starts for the Bisons. In a total of 22 starts at Buffalo, Guthrie’s numbers are very un-phenom-like: 5-11, 6.73 and an opponents’ batting average of .317.
Farm director John Farrell has been studying tapes of Guthrie from college and Akron last year, and comparing them to tapes of him this year, and those comparisons helped Farrell pinpoint the cause of Guthrie’s current problems.
”It’s a definite mechanical issue involving his stride direction,” Farrell said. ”He’s throwing more across his body because of it, and it’s caused him to have an inconsistent release point, which explains the high number of walks. We saw it first in spring training, and it hasn’t gotten any better.”
Farrell recently went to Buffalo to meet with Guthrie one-on-one.
”Mentally he’s fine,” Farrell said. ”He recognizes the changes he has to make. What’s frustrating to him is he knows he’s a more capable pitcher than this. He’s a very good athlete, and has shown an ability to adjust in the past.”
In some ways Guthrie’s situation is similar to what Brandon Phillips went through with the Indians last season. Guthrie is facing failure for the first time, just as Phillips did last year. For an athlete who has known nothing but stardom, it can be a humbling experience.
”With Jeremy, I don’t know if it’s a confidence thing, or whether he’s just not able to relax and adjust,” Farrell said. ”Maybe he’s pressing, trying to achieve the results he feels he should achieve.”
Farrell said there is nothing wrong with Guthrie physically.
”He’s fine,” Farrell said. ”He’s been throwing 90 to 95 mph in every start, which he couldn’t do if he was injured. But this is not a velocity issue. It’s a location and strike throwing issue.”
Through it all, though, Farrell said Guthrie has not made excuses, and has met his slump head on.
”He’s not disillusioned,” Farrell said. ”He knows he needs to get himself squared away before he can be considered ready to be considered a major league pitcher.”