One of the many disappointing storylines of the 2009 season was the inability of Jeremy Guthrie to establish himself as the Orioles’ No. 1 starter. Despite the sub-par performance, the Orioles signed Guthrie to a one-year deal worth $3 million, avoiding arbitration. It was quite a raise from the $650,000 he made last season, but let’s just hope he can perform up to his earning potential this season.

Guthrie’s biggest problem in 2009 was his location. At times, he had virtually no movement on his pitches and made too many mistake pitches up in the zone. He struggled with this early and often and, as a result, allowed 35 home runs, which was among the league’s worst. Guthrie has always pitched around the strike zone, though. He only walked 60 batters last season and has only surrendered 188 in 603 career innings pitched. Even though he doesn’t walk many people, he doesn’t strike a lot of people out either. All this being said, he relies on his location and when he misses, he really misses.

But what’s extremely frustrating for Orioles’ fans is that Guthrie showed flashes of being a top-rate starter in 2007 and 2008, but couldn’t produce any type of consistency as the ace of the staff last season. He finished 2009 with a 10-17 record and a 5.04 ERA, which are not even close to the numbers you want out of your No. 1 starter. Guthrie performed well in 2007 and 2008, finishing with ERA’s of 3.70 and 3.63, respectively. His command was there and it looked like he had the stuff to be the dominant pitcher the Orioles have been looking for. Now it seems we are back to square one.

Guthrie is in a tough spot this season. He has a handful of young pitching prospects breathing down his neck just waiting to take his spot in the rotation. Ultimately, I’m sure Guthrie would like to be the veteran of the staff that the young guys look up to and learn from. He may have to wait to take full control of that role considering the Orioles signed 12-year veteran Kevin Millwood in the off-season. Millwood will start out the season as the ace and, barring any unforeseen circumstances; he’ll finish the season the same way.

This leaves Guthrie in a precarious position. His role as the ace was taken right out from under him and his No. 2 spot in the rotation could be in jeopardy as well. The young guys like Brad Bergesen and Brian Matusz are trying to make names for themselves and have the potential to drop Guthrie down in the rotation. I’m not saying this will happen right away, but the flashes of brilliance that Bergesen and Matusz showed last season may speed up the process.

The good thing about Guthrie, though, is that his problems are mainly mechanical and can be fixed. He has great mental focus and doesn’t get down on himself when he makes a bad pitch or has a bad inning. If that were the case, he probably wouldn’t have been able to finish last season. I think with some minor adjustments from pitching coach Rick Kranitz, Guthrie will be just fine. Let’s hope so, anyway.