It’s bad enough if and when a young pitcher gets the call to the Show, gets the start under whatever circumstances, and gets slapped around. It’s almost worse if you’re a veteran who hasn’t seen major league action in almost two years and you got a call up to take a spot start.
Jeremy Guthrie would never kid you that he’s been one of the greats of his time. But he might have told you he was serviceable enough to pitch in all or parts of twelve major league seasons prior to Saturday.
He might even have told you he’s been there, done that, when it comes to a horrific inning or less’s work, referencing the 2015 start he made for the Royals in which he came out in the second with nobody out and eleven Yankee runs across the plate.
Guthrie was disappeared a couple of months later and not even a topic in the Royals’ 2015 World Series triumph, an ignominious happenstance for a guy who’d pitched and won Game Three of the 2014 World Series with a little help from that H-D-H bullpen.
But even Guthrie wouldn’t have told you he took the mound for the Nationals Saturday expecting to be . . . no, slapped around wouldn’t even begin to cover it. Whipped, pureed, sliced, diced, ground, and minced may be about right. About the only thing he wasn’t, in surrendering eight earned runs in two thirds of an inning’s work before his relief allowed two more onto his resume, was nuked.
Nats manager Dusty Baker hoped Guthrie could eat enough innings to give their already-hard worked bullpen a spell of rest and repose. Baker had to figure a veteran who’d been a non-roster spring invitee and working out diligently enough in Florida could step up and do just that. There went that idea.
When the Nats opened at Citizens Bank Park by losing young shortstop star Trea Turner to a tightened hamstring, that was the injury. When the Phillies wrapped ten earned runs around Guthrie’s belt on six hits and four walks in the bottom of the first, that was the insult. On his 38th birthday, while he was at it.
With two more to come before the inning ended, it was the first time the Phillies had ever had a twelve-run inning, the fourth in 23 seasons in which any team had a twelve-run first, and the first time a birthday boy surrendered ten or more earned since a White Sox pitcher named Sloppy Thurston in 1925.
On the other hand, the Phillies did send sixteen batters to the plate in the first without one of them hitting one over the fences. The last pitcher to allow ten earned without one ball going yard was Bubba Harris of the Philadelphia Athletics in 1948.
The Nats knew they were in trouble enough when Turner opened the game with a base hit off Phillies starter Aaron Nola and a steal of second on Nola’s first pitch to Adam Eaton, who finished that appearance with a walk. After Bryce Harper flied out, Daniel Murphy smacked one through the hole at second base and Turner, motoring to third, slowed, stopped, and called for the trainer, leaving the game promptly and raising alarms enough.
Ryan Zimmerman grounded into a double play to end the top. Then Guthrie went to work. Then the Phillies went to work on him. When it was over, Guthrie could have been forgiven if he’d thought about levying charges of elder abuse against the Phillies:
* Cesar Hernandez lined a double to the back of left field.
* Howie Kendrick moved Hernandez to third with a line single to right and stole second before Guthrie finished walking Odubel Herrera.
* Hernandez came home when Maikel Franco lined out to right, Franco credited with a sacrifice fly.
* Kendrick and Herrera scored on back-to-back singles by Michael Saunders and Tommy Joseph.
* Guthrie walked Cameron Rupp to load the pads for Freddy Galvis, who hit another sacrifice fly, deep enough to left center to send home Saunders.
* Then, Guthrie walked Nola to re-load the pads and Hernandez to send home Joseph.
* Then, Kendrick unloaded the pads with a triple to the rear end of center field.
* Then, Herrera singled Kendrick home and Baker, at last, knowing there was no way he could keep his bullpen resting any longer, took Guthrie out of the carnage and brought in Enny Romero, heretofore a nondescript pitcher acquired from Tampa Bay in a deal for a minor leaguer of little repute.
Romero’s first pitch to Franco got driven to right center for an RBI double, putting the tenth run onto Guthrie’s jacket. Then, Romero’s full count service to Saunders got driven to just about the same real estate for another RBI double, and his 2-2 pitch to Joseph got slashed on a line up the pipe for an RBI single, before Romero finally ended the human rights violations by striking out Rupp.
The best news for the Nats was Joe Blanton coming out of the pen to rid himself of all nine hitters he faced including three strikeouts. The Nats took no chances and promoted Matt Albers from Triple A to the pen, but Blanton’s outing had to look encouraging in a faint light at the end of the tunnel way.
“You never know when these things are going to happen again,” Joseph mused when it was over. “As they keep piling you try to get as many as you can.”
“First of all, in the short term, just a terrible loss, and put some guys in a position where they had to throw more innings than they should have to throw. It’s going to shuffle things up a number of ways,” Guthrie said after the game. ”And in the long term, you think about the work that you put in and the effort that you give, with new teammates and new coaches, a month and a half of that. And you feel like an outing like this, it kind of erases those feelings.
“Unfortunately, that’s the way I feel right now,” he continued. “I just feel like six weeks of really good results and really good feelings about the work I’ve done and the way I’ve fit on this club, it’s hard to think about it right now. It just kind of goes away in a moment.”
So did Guthrie, figuratively speaking. While probably feeling relieved that Turner thinks his hamstring will need nothing more than a few days’ rest to straighten out, the Nats designated Guthrie for assignment Sunday. Considering his struggles in the minors for Texas and Miami last year, too, he may not be seen in the majors again unless he decides to become a bullpen bull.
It’d have to be better than the anti-birthday present the Phillies gave him.