KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Royals took a shot Friday at softening the blow from the disastrous Jonathan Sanchez offseason trade.
The Royals acquired Colorado right-hander Jeremy Guthrie in exchange for Sanchez, who had been designated for assignment on Tuesday. Essentially, that now makes the offseason trade of Melky Cabrera to the Giants for Guthrie and prospect Ryan Verdugo.
And there is reason to like Friday’s deal.
At first glance, it would appear the Royals and Rockies simply swapped lost causes. Sanchez was horrific with Kansas City, posting a 7.76 ERA and a 1-6 mark.
Guthrie was almost as bad for the Rockies, who had made him their Opening Day starter. Overall, he was 3-9 with a 6.35 ERA.
But one explanation for Guthrie’s poor overall numbers was that he had become spooked about pitching at Coors Field – he had a respectable 3.67 ERA in 10 games (eight starts) away from Coors Field.
Guthrie admitted in a conference call Friday with reporters that he was a completely different pitcher at Coors, where he was 1-6 with a 9.51 earned run average. He allowed 14 homers there in 41 innings.
“For whatever reason, the ball just came out of my hand differently,” Guthrie said. “I’m not a scientist. I can’t explain it. But it just felt different.
“I don’t want to make excuses. The home runs I gave up there were not wall-scrapers. They were legitimate. They would have been home runs everywhere. And I don’t know if it was the altitude or the space of the park. It just never felt right when the ball left my hand.
“What happened then was that whatever pitch I made was the wrong pitch and whatever location I had was the wrong location.”
Guthrie is now hoping a change of scenery will enable him to return to being one of the league’s top starters.
“I know Kauffman Stadium is a big park and is a pitcher’s park,” he said. “And with that great defense Kansas City has, that makes it even more so. I’m anxious to get there and help out.”
What makes Friday’s deal so intriguing is that Guthrie, 33 isn’t that far removed from being one of the better pitchers in the American League. Originally a first-round pick of the Indians in 2002, he resurrected his career with the Baltimore Orioles in 2007, posting a 7-5 record with a 3.70 ERA.
Guthrie became an Opening Day starter for the O’s three times, and in 2010 was 11-14 with a 3.83 ERA.
Guthrie also was an innings-eater in Baltimore. From 2009-11, he averaged over 205 innings per year. And unlike Sanchez, Guthrie is also a strike-thrower — in 2010 he averaged just 2.1 walks per nine innings.
“To throw that many innings, you have to stay healthy,” Guthrie said. “I work hard at trying to stay in shape and staying healthy. That’s why I haven’t had too many stints on the DL. Well, until this year.”
One of the ways Guthrie has stayed healthy is through his tradition of riding to the ballpark each day on his bicycle. But while doing so this May, the rear chain on his bike snapped, he tumbled, jammed his elbow into his shoulder, and missed three weeks because of a shoulder sprain.
“Just a freak thing,” he said.
Guthrie is 100 percent healthy again, and eager to prove it.
“I am very disappointed that I couldn’t have helped in Colorado more,” he said. “But I’m always anxious for new challenges. I have a chance now to contribute to the Royals, who have a great young corps of players. I look forward to being part of that.”
The Royals, on the other hand, are looking for anything to salvage the Sanchez-Cabrera deal, a trade that made sense in the offseason but quickly fell apart when Sanchez struggled mightily just to make it through five innings each outing.
Sanchez walked 44 hitters in 53 1/3 innings while giving up 65 hits. His WHIP was a staggering 2.04. Worse yet, Sanchez, through his body language on the field and in the dugout, gave off the appearance that he wasn’t bothered by his poor outings — that, of course, riled Royals fans.
A competitive fire shouldn’t be a problem with Guthrie, who, according to one Royals scout, termed him a “fighter on the mound.”
“I just look forward to new challenges,” Guthrie said. “That’s what I like to do.”
The Royals weren’t the only team interested in Guthrie. Both the Tigers and Blue Jays reportedly had made offers to the Rockies for Guthrie in recent weeks.
Guthrie likely will move right into the Royals’ depleted rotation. He last pitched on Wednesday, meaning he likely won’t be available to start for the Royals until Monday.
“I could go on Sunday but more likely Monday,” he said. “We’ll see what they say.”
If Guthrie, who will make $8.2 million this year, is productive in these last 2 1/2 months to the 2012 season, he could be attractive to the Royals in terms of an arbitration deal. The Royals will be looking for a stop-gap while they wait for Felipe Paulino and Danny Duffy to recover from Tommy John surgery.