The thing is, Guthrie didn't have much to worry about in the past two seasons. The former first-round draftee had established himself in Baltimore by consistently limiting the damage and working deep in games. Guthrie allowed two earned runs or less 17 times last season, but he's only done it twice in his first 13 starts this year.
And this time, Guthrie found solace in simply pitching a competitive game. The 30-year-old was coming off the shortest start of his career, a six-run thrashing at the hands of the Oakland A's. Guthrie (4-6) followed that start with a problematic side session, putting Wednesday's effort into a more flattering light.
"Today, unfortunately, is a positive step for me," said Guthrie, who denied feeling any pain or discomfort. "Pitching -- and athletics in general -- there are so many things that go into it. The way you lift your leg, the way you throw your arm out, the way your arm comes through. It's not that those things are going through my mind, but sometimes you just throw the baseball and it doesn't feel right. ... I'm not trying to say I'm an out-of-whack pitcher. I'm just saying yesterday was not a great throwing day and today was nice to be able to feel like myself."
And in reality, Guthrie's evening was two pitches away from being considered an unqualified success. Jose Lopez reached him for a solo home run to left field in the second inning and returned for a two-run shot in the sixth. Both homers came on errant breaking balls, feeding into a recent trend for Guthrie.
"If I were to go back on most of them," said manager Dave Trembley, "I'd say most of them are breaking pitches that haven't had enough finish and have been up and in the middle of the plate. I don't think they've come off fastballs. You don't give up home runs on pitches that are down. You give up home runs on pitches that are up and out over the strike zone. I think the home runs for the most part have come on breaking pitches."
That was virtually all the offense for the Mariners (29-30), who used a fielding miscue in the fourth to score another run. And it was more than enough for Felix Hernandez, who was rarely challenged over seven innings. Baltimore got two runners on base in the first inning and didn't push another runner into scoring position until the fifth.
The Orioles (25-34) scored on a one-out single by Brian Roberts in the fifth, but Hernandez (6-3) held firm through the seventh and closer David Aardsma worked the ninth for his 10th save of the season.
"Hernandez outpitched us," said Trembley. "I thought the difference was when he got behind in the count, his secondary pitches were very good. ... Our opportunities against Hernandez were few and far between, and the ones that we did have, we didn't capitalize on. He just pitched a better game. That simple."
Perhaps it was that simple, but it also had something to do with Baltimore's flagging offense. The Orioles have scored three runs or less in nine of their last 10 games and hold a 2-8 record over that span. And in the aftermath, Trembley kept on coming back to his team's inability to cash in an early rally against Hernandez.
"I've seen Hernandez enough, and I think everybody understands how he pitches," said Trembley. "The scoring opportunities against him aren't going to be plentiful. You're going to have to get him early and we had the opportunity. We had the right guys up, but he just made real good pitches and got good hitters out."
Guthrie, by contrast, has to get his game under control. The Oregon native has thrown six quality starts in 13 outings this season, but he's also allowed four earned runs or more six times before the All-Star break. Guthrie did that just eight times all of last season, but he doesn't have any magic formula to consider and adopt.
"I'm hoping things will turn around, and it's going to be predicated on execution," he said. "That's what I try to work on. One thing I don't believe in is trying to avoid allowing home runs. You focus on making good, quality pitches and hopefully the result is [better]. That's all I can control, and I haven't done as good a job as I need to."