Opening Day start brings many firsts for Guthrie

Opening Day start brings many firsts for Guthrie

Opening Day start brings many firsts for Guthrie
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-hander Jeremy Guthrie can approach Friday's Opening Day start against the Astros at Minute Maid Park with a mix of veteran's calm and newbie's wonder.

Guthrie, who turns 32 on Sunday, arrived in a Feb. 6 trade with the Orioles, for whom he started the opener three of the last four years. But after his previous stops with the Indians (2004-06) and the Orioles (2007-10), Guthrie will be experiencing some firsts.

"My first two starts will be in parks I've never been to, let alone pitched in, so there will be a lot of new experiences," said Guthrie, who includes Coors Field -- where he will pitch on April 11 -- as the other stadium he has yet to visit.

However, if Guthrie pitches the way he has in his previous starts to begin a season, he'll show immediately why the Rockies gave up starting pitcher Jason Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom, then put him in a leadership role.

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In his first opener, Guthrie battled through 93 pitches over six innings against the Yankees and emerged with a 10-5 victory on April 1, 2009.

"Pitching up against C.C. Sabathia in his first start as a Yankee and getting a win was one of those that will stand out in my mind for a long time," Guthrie said. "I was not necessarily 'on.' It was just a good game. We had a big home run late in the game from Cesar Izturis, who wasn't a guy who hit a lot of home runs.

"We just battled. It was just a good game. They had super-high expectations for that series. They ended up winning the World Series. It was a crazy, sold-out crowd and a great atmosphere at Camden Yards. To beat the eventual World Champions on day one and it was a great start."

Guthrie was actually better in his next opener, a 4-1 road victory over the Rays. Guthrie spaced 94 pitches over eight scoreless innings, with three strikeouts and no walks.

The Rockies hope to give Guthrie the support he needs to continue winning throughout the season, something that didn't always happen with a Baltimore team that battled the powerhouse Yankees and Red Sox and a well-built Rays club in the AL East.

Last year, Guthrie went 9-17 with a 4.33 ERA. He became the second pitcher in Major League history, after onetime Rockies pitcher Kip Wells, to lose 17 games in a season twice (2009,2011) in his career. But the numbers suggest he pitched better than the record.

Put into perspective, his ERA would have been second-lowest on the Rockies' staff last season but his win total would have been second-highest. Of course, the Rockies didn't exactly finish strong, 73-88 and fourth in the NL West. But his ERA last year would have been right in line with the ERAs of the 2009 staff, which helped the team to the playoffs, and would have been third-lowest on the starting staff in 2007, when the Rockies went to the World Series.

Also, the Rockies' lineup -- in which Carlos Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki and Todd Helton are now surrounded by productive veterans such as Marco Scutaro, Michael Cuddyer and Ramon Hernandez -- is expected to provide more run support than Guthrie had in Baltimore. His team managed three or fewer runs in exactly half of his 64 starts since the beginning of the 2010 season.

However, Guthrie isn't casting aspersions on his former club.

"To the credit of my teammates, we always had confidence in Baltimore that we had a good team," Guthrie said. "There's no difference.

"This team is preparing each day to compete for the division and make a long run in the playoffs if we can accomplish the first goal. In Baltimore we were all professionals. We practiced each day to compete."

The Rockies hope to make waves in a division that hasn't had a dominant team in recent years. The D-backs struggled in 2010, but became the surprise division champ in 2011. The Rockies have their aspirations on a turnaround, and plenty of examples to follow -- such as their own big finishes in 2007 and 2009.

It would essentially put Guthrie in the new position of leading the staff of a contender.

"I can't even look that far ahead," Guthrie said. "I've got plenty of things to work on start-to-start," Guthrie said. "I pitch as best I can every five days, then look back at it at the end of the year and say we made it to the playoffs, then would be a good time to think about it and reminisce."

Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.