WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Since he last pitched in the major leagues Jeremy Guthrie has completed his studies for his college degree at Stanford and played baseball in Australia.
Now the Roseburg native and Ashland High graduate is trying to make it back to the major leagues with the Washington Nationals, the defending champions in the National League East.
“It is a very good organization,” Guthrie said of the Nationals, sitting in his locker in the Washington spring training clubhouse at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. “I didn’t know much about the Nationals other than what you see on TV. It is a really comfortable place to play. I like the way they focus on the game. I like the way they work. It is a great opportunity for anybody.”
Most of Guthrie’s success and experience in the majors came just north of Washington with the Baltimore Orioles, with whom he played for from 2007 to 2011.
He also played with the Cleveland Indians from 2004-06, with the Colorado Rockies in 2012 and with the Kansas City Royals from 2012 to 2015.
Guthrie has pitched out of the bullpen in just 43 of his 305 Major League outings, but he is trying to earn a spot in the bullpen of the Nationals. He is 91-108 in his career with a 4.37 ERA.
“I feel like I have thrown the ball the best I could,” Guthrie said. “I am trying to provide flexibility and options (for the staff). There are a lot of great arms (with Washington). There are certainly no guarantees” about making the team.
Guthrie is battling for a roster spot along with veteran pitchers such as Vance Worley, who started here Monday against the Yankees, and fellow right-hander Matt Albers.
“It is going to be a tough decision down the stretch,” Washington manager Dusty Baker said of upcoming roster decisions. The Nationals open the season at home April 3 against Miami.
Guthrie, who turns 37 on April 8, was mostly a starter in the big leagues but did make six appearances out of the bullpen for the Kansas City Royals in 2015.
He was 8-8 with an ERA of 5.95 in 30 games that year. Guthrie did not pitch in the majors in 2016, although he did sign minor league deals with the Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins. He made 17 starts in the minors last year with an ERA of 7.17.
The Oregon native had an ERA of 2.16 in his first six spring training appearances with the Nationals, allowing just five hits in 8 1/3 innings.
“He is a pro’s pro,” Nationals pitching coach Mike Maddux said of Guthrie. “He is a very young 36. He is definitely a role model, on and off the field. He fields his position well.”
Guthrie, coming out of Ashland High, attended BYU before he transferred to Stanford.
He was drafted by Cleveland in 2002 out of Stanford and made his big league debut with the Indians two years later.
Guthrie did not have degree when he left Stanford for pro ball. But he was determined to see it through.
“It was a goal that I had so I knew I would achieve it. I was able to reach out to some professors and I began the process back in 2015,” he said. “I completed my degree by spring of last year, 2016. For me graduation was always going to happen. It is a mindset if you are going to go back and get it done.”
Last fall he signed to play for a team in Melbourne, Australia, after not getting much time on the mound at the pro level in North America in 2016.
“It was exciting. Baseball is played at a pretty high level over there,” he said. “The interest in it is probably lower than they would hope; they continue to try and grow the sport through clubs. I had a tremendous time with the club over there. We had quite a few natives on our team.”
His team included about six Americans who are in pro ball with the Atlanta Braves, Royals and Tampa Bay Rays.
Guthrie said if he doesn’t make the Opening Day roster he will decide later whether or not to accept a possible trip to Triple-A Syracuse in the Washington system.
“I have enjoyed my time here with Washington,” he said. “I understand there is a lot of stiff competition.”
The veteran right-hander has enjoyed working with Maddux, ready to begin his second year as the Washington pitching coach.
“He is a great teacher. We do a kind of classroom setting here before home games. I think it really helps prepare us pitchers,” Guthrie said. “I have learned a ton from him. In fact I take a lot of notes. You don’t get a lot of teaching in a classroom setting at the Major League level, at least I haven’t.”
If any of the Nationals can appreciate the classroom it is Guthrie.
Editor’s note: David Driver is a free-lance writer from Maryland and can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com