You know, say what you will about the price that the Kansas City Royals paid to acquire frontline starter James Shields, but perhaps that focus on pitching is being paid forward through the rest of the rotation.
Big Game James struck out six in a one-run, six inning performance for the team on Opening Day. Two days later, it was the fly-ball happy Ervin Santana who followed that up with eight strikeouts through six (along with three homers) in yet another losing effort.
On Thursday, Jeremy Guthrie took the mound and topped them both.
The veteran right-hander had been a mediocre starter throughout his career until he arrived in Kansas City in the middle of 2012, when he’d promptly took over as the team’s best pitcher, putting up a surprising 3.16/1.13 ERA/WHIP over 91 innings as a member of the Royals.
His career numbers would have suggested that stretch to be a outlier, but Guthrie simply picked up where he left off in his debut in 2013 against the Chicago White Sox, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk through six strong innings.
The most remarkable thing about the start? He struck out a whopping nine batters, forgetting that he’s supposed to be a guy with a career 5.44 K/9 over his 1202 previous innings.
When he wasn’t striking out White Sox batters, it’s not as though he was getting hit hard. Guthrie was really only in trouble once, when a sequence of a hit-by-pitch and a pair of singles in the fifth inning cost him a run. This time, though, the Royals bats had finally managed to spot their starter a lead, and the bullpen carried out the 3-1 score the rest of the way to give the team their first victory of the young 2013 season.
Yes, the Royals may exit the opening series against the divisional rival White Sox with a 1-2 record, but the team should be feeling pretty decent about the performances on the mound that they’ve seen from their new-look starting rotation thus far.
It’s only one start, but if Guthrie can truly maintain what he did in Kansas City in 2012 over a full season, this rag-tag group of underrated starters led by Shields might just end up surprising themselves — and the AL Central — all season long.