Veteran right-hander Jeremy Guthrie suddenly looks exactly like what the Royals need after working seven innings Tuesday in a 5-0 victory over the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium.
Guthrie yielded three hits while striking out eight and walking two. That makes two dominant starts in a row and three straight quality starts for a club thirsting for reliable arms in its rotation.
Could this blossom into a longer relationship?
“Absolutely,” Guthrie said. “This is a place when I came (here), I thought it would be a good fit for me. When I got traded here, if I could have hand-picked a team, this was one of two or three that I would have hand-picked.
“I have no idea of what the organizational needs are, and there is certainly a lot of season (left) for me to be consistent and to continue to improve. We’ll see what happens.”
The Royals have no need more paramount than beefing up their rotation, but there is, of course, a hitch. Guthrie is a pending free agent and, if his last two starts are any indication, could be positioned for a raise from his current $8.2 million salary.
That seemed all but impossible when the Royals obtained Guthrie from Colorado in a July 20 trade for Jonathan Sánchez. That deal, at the time, was a swap of immensely disappointing veterans. The Royals just needed a band-aid but were hoping for more.
“You’re not a No. 1 starter for four straight years on opening day just for nothing,” manager Ned Yost said. “I just felt, along with Dayton (Moore), that three or four starts would get him back on track.
“He’s definitely on track. You look at it, and it’s not really fluky stuff. You could see that this could be extended out.”
Guthrie was 3-9 with a 6.35 ERA for the Rockies and lost his first three starts as a Royal before pitching eight shutout innings last Wednesday in a 2-1 victory at Chicago. He is now 2-3 as a Royal and working on a run of 15 straight scoreless innings.
“This year didn’t start out very well for me in Colorado,” he said. “But I think a lot of those things that gave me struggles are things that I’m learning now and able to work on and improve on.”
Guthrie quickly ticked off reasons why he saw coming to the Royals as a good fit.
“It was a team that’s young and hits the ball very well in a pitchers’ park,” he said. “A lot of times you see teams that have pitchers’ parks, they don’t score a bunch of runs. You may have a 3.00 ERA but, at the same time, your team is scoring one or two runs.
“This is a team that can score runs in a nice, big ballpark. They’ve got good outfielders who can go track it down. I give up some fly balls, so I felt it was a good fit that way. We’ll see. It’s obviously a long ways away.”
To be continued … now, back to Tuesday:
The Royals scored all of their runs in the fifth inning. They did little before that against Oakland starter Jarrod Parker and little thereafter against the A’s bullpen, but Guthrie and relievers Tim Collins and Greg Holland made five runs look like 50.
“We had a tough time early tonight against Parker,” right fielder Jeff Francoeur conceded. “We had never seen him, and he was pitching well. But with Guth was able to throw up zeroes for us, it gave us a chance to settle in.
“Then, bam, we broke out for five and felt, OK, that’s the ballgame.”
Collins carved a niche in the Royals’ record book by striking out the side, all looking, in the eighth. That boosted his season total to 79 strikeouts – a club record of a left-handed reliever. Andrew Sisco had 78 in 2005.
“I didn’t even know a record like that existed,” Collins said. “It’s pretty awesome, I guess.”
The A’s hammered Guthrie earlier this season for seven runs in five innings in an 8-5 victory in Colorado. He said that beating, which included three home runs, provided “a nice blueprint of what not to do.”
This was a different guy.
“He was definitely pitching with a lot more confidence,” A’s designated hitter Brandon Moss said. “When we were in Denver, he did not want to come over the plate with anything. Here he goes after you. I think I made contact with one pitch he threw tonight.
“He just had late movement on it, I wasn’t picking it up, I think a lot of us weren’t.”
Parker (7-7) sailed through the first four innings before failing to survive the fifth. His final line included five runs, four hits and two costly walks in 4 2/3 innings.
Salvy Perez started the fifth with a leadoff walk. He went to third on Francoeur’s double into the right-center gap before Eric Hosmer delivered the game’s first run on a sinking liner to right for an RBI single.
Parker fell behind 3-0 on Hosmer, who then swung out of his shoes on an off-speed pitch before driving in the run.
“On 3-0, I got a little aggressive,” Hosmer admitted. “I was hoping for a heater right there. But you can get aggressive in those situations because you’ve got two more strikes. Then it was just stay middle and get the run in. He hung a curveball.”
A walk to Lorenzo Cain loaded the bases with no outs before Chris Getz’s drive to deep right resulted in a sacrifice fly for a 2-0 lead.
“It’s inexcusable,” Parker said, “to put guys on (with walks) after attacking. I started pitching backwards and that’s not my style.”
Then the Royals got fortunate.
Alex Gordon’s slow grounder to the right side somehow got past stationary first baseman Chris Carter for an RBI single. Escobar followed with a sharp grounder to second that ate up Jemile Weeks. Another run.
Butler’s sacrifice fly to deep center made it 5-0 and finished Parker.
“We got some runners and a couple of big hits,” Hosmer said, “and (Guthrie) had it in cruise control from then on.”