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Guthrie comes up big

Guthrie comes up big

BALTIMORE -- From now on, every start might be the most important outing of Jeremy Guthrie's career. Guthrie's status in Baltimore's rotation is under review every time he takes the ball, and the right-hander pitched well under scrutiny Tuesday night, when he shut down Tampa Bay for six innings in an 8-3 win for the Orioles.

"It's so young," Guthrie said of his bid for a rotation slot. "I always want to try to pitch well, and like I've said, you want to make the decision hard for them to decide what to do -- or make it easy, I guess, depending on how you look at it. Hopefully, pitching well will give them the flexibility to do what they want to do, instead of forcing their hand."

"It makes you feel like we've got a guy who can go in there and do it," added Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo, speaking with renewed confidence in Guthrie's ability. "You don't want to put too much pressure on the kid. He had a great start tonight. Hopefully, he can repeat it. And after he repeats it, I'll feel a lot better again."

Guthrie has been pitching under the pressure of an audition for virtually his entire career, so this situation is nothing new. The former first-round pick was never able to break into the rotation in Cleveland -- the organization that drafted and developed him -- and has been looking at his stop in Baltimore as a fresh start and a second chance.

That opportunity began as a relief job, but has progressed back to the starting rubber after injuries to Adam Loewen and Jaret Wright. Guthrie and Brian Burres are in the rotation on a temporary basis, but Baltimore doesn't have a lot of other options in-house. On Tuesday, pitching coach Leo Mazzone reminded Guthrie of that fact.

"Leo said today, 'You're not auditioning. Relax, have fun,' " Guthrie said. "He said it right as I left the bullpen, so that was a nice comfort. I had enough auditions in Cleveland and felt like, 'Hopefully, I've gotten the bad ones out of the way.' I really did feel like every time I ever threw there in three years was an audition. Today, I was relaxed."

That state of mind showed, as Guthrie (2-1) got through his outing on just 67 pitches and used double plays in the third and fourth innings to end two potential rallies. He also stranded a runner in scoring position in the second, fifth and sixth, thanks largely to some fantastic defense behind him by third baseman Melvin Mora.

"This game was dictated by Melvin's plays," Guthrie said. "Three of those balls could have went for leadoff doubles, or doubles. ... He saved three hits, and who knows how many runs and how many pitches he saved. He played unbelievable. This game was completely changed by the way Melvin played."

Guthrie allowed six hits -- four for singles -- and one earned run. The right-hander also got the benefit of a disputed call in the sixth inning, when left-fielder Carl Crawford hit a ball off the top of the wall in center field that caromed back onto the field. The play was ruled a double, but instant replays appeared to confirm it as a home run.

That was just the kind of break Guthrie and the Orioles needed, and it helped Baltimore (15-18) quiet a potential rally in the middle innings. Guthrie came out after the sixth and helped erase the specter of two difficult relief outings last week in Cleveland, where he got just four outs and allowed six earned runs against his former team.

"In Cleveland, I just left the ball up and everything happened so fast," he said. "I gave up two inherited runs and three earned in four pitches, and that doesn't happen very often. I could've told them I was throwing fastballs down the middle and it probably wouldn't have happened that fast. Those performances were frustrating because it happened against a team I would've liked to pitch well [against], but I didn't leave those games wondering, 'Where is my stuff?' "

The Orioles provided a lot of early support for Guthrie by scoring in each of the game's first three innings. Mora broke the scoreless tie with a two-run single in the first inning, and Nick Markakis gave Baltimore a 4-1 lead with a home run over the right-field scoreboard in the second. Jay Payton doubled in the third to score another run.

Perhaps the most surprising offensive night came from Jay Gibbons, who went 3-for-4 with a double and a home run. The designated hitter had been on the bench for three straight days before that outburst, and his successful night at the office moved his batting average from .188 to .214 -- but more importantly, it gave him confidence.

"I had some good swings, and I also had some bad swings tonight. I do feel better," he said. "It stinks not playing -- especially when you're used to playing every day, no matter what. Just sitting there for a few days isn't fun."

"I'm sure he's got a big smile on his face. It put a smile on my face," added Perlozzo. "I think it's a credit to him and [hitting coach] Terry Crowley -- they've been working hard on it. It looks like they've got something resolved, which is what we've been looking for. I give credit to both of them for getting the job done."

Tampa Bay's Jae Seo wore most of the damage and left after three eventful innings. Seo (1-3) gave up six hits and five earned runs to sink his team to an early deficit. Tim Corcoran pitched into the sixth for the Devil Rays (14-18), and Baltimore added a run in the seventh off Chad Orvella and two more in the eighth off Jae Kuk Ryu.

Both of Guthrie's big-league wins have come against Tampa Bay, and he seemed excited by the prospect of many more to come. But that won't come with any animosity toward Cleveland.

"I never once felt like they were making a mistake, or cheating me. Their hand was forced," Guthrie said. "They had five great starters. Jeremy Sowers came up last year and 'passed me.' So did [Fausto] Carmona. Those guys threw the ball well, and there was no room for me. I told them that. I said, 'I'm not offended,' when they said they weren't going to bring me back next year. I knew there was no room. It didn't matter what I did."

Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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