It was also his Double-A debut. And an incredibly important game in the Texas League playoff race.
Although the Frisco RoughRiders lost the game, it was to no fault of Gutierrez, who received a no decision. The 22-year-old performed admirably in the difficult situation, surrendering two runs on three hits in five innings pitched. He struck out three without walking a batter.
In the first inning, Gutierrez sat at just 88-90 mph with his fastball and he gave up a run on two hits. As the hurler admits in the following interview, he dealt with a few nerves early on.
But Gutierrez settled down, his command improved, and his velocity returned to its normal 90-93 mph range, even bumping 94 a handful of times. After Midland scored its first run, the Riverside native sat down 14 of the final 17 hitters he faced, allowing just three balls to be hit to the outfield.
As expected, Gutierrez's curveball showed definite plus potential, featuring a hard and sharp 12-to-6 break much of the time. His changeup was a pleasant surprise as he, according to multiple reports—including himself—used it often and threw it for strikes with ease.
Lone Star Dugout spoke with Gutierrez on Monday morning about his trade to the Rangers and his first game with Frisco.
Jason Cole: Just give me your initial thoughts on getting traded from the Royals to the Rangers.
Daniel Gutierrez: Originally, I was supposed to start last Wednesday night. I got called in—the GM for the Royals was in town. He called me in the office and said that I was scratched from my start and there was a possible trade that was going to happen. He didn't tell me with who or whatever, so I didn't know what was going on. When I found out that it was with the Rangers, I was pretty excited.
Cole: How surprised were you that you were traded? Did you see that coming at all?
Gutierrez: I didn't expect it to happen this late in the season. I could see it happening in the fall just because of my bumpy road with the Royals and whatnot. But I didn't expect it this late in the season.
Cole: You've only been with the Rangers for a few days, but you have gotten a start with the Frisco team already. What are your thoughts on the Rangers organization so far?
Gutierrez: Frisco's stadium is beautiful. When I first got to the stadium, everyone welcomed me. Everyone was really cool. I talked to the GM and Scott Servais, the minor league coordinator, and everyone seems really cool and they welcomed me to the organization. I'm excited to be here.
Cole: The other night, you made your debut in the Rangers' system, but also at the same time, you made your Double-A debut. Just give me your thoughts on that start.
Gutierrez: I was really nervous, I'm not going to lie. It was a really long bus ride the night before, and we got into the hotel and all I could think about was my start. It really hadn't settled in year that I had been traded and sent to Double-A and all that. So I was just really nervous and anxious and just ready to get it over with and go out there and compete.
Cole: You guys lost the game, but you pitched well and had the lead when you left. Did it put any extra pressure on you that your first start was coming in such a huge game for Frisco's playoff hopes?
Gutierrez: Oh yeah, no doubt. They told me that they were a game back with three to go and we were playing the first-place team. They said, ‘And you've got the start game one.' It made me a little more nervous, but I like being put in those kinds of situations, to be honest with you. I like to be challenged and when it counts, I like to pitch.
Cole: Talk about the differences in stepping in right away and working with a new team. You had to get used to a new catcher at a new level all of the sudden.
Gutierrez: I was nervous about all that. But once the game started and the first pitch was thrown, that all went out the door. The catcher they've got down here—Gradoville—is really good. He calls a really good game, so I was happy with the start.
Cole: Since Rangers fans haven't really gotten an opportunity to know you or see you pitch, can you give me kind of a scouting report of you on the mound?
Gutierrez: Basically, with the old organization, we were only on three pitches—four-seam fastball, breaking pitch, and a changeup. So I threw four-seam, 12-6 curve, and a changeup. But I'm looking forward to adding in a cutter and a sinker here pretty soon, which I had back in junior college. I'm excited for that.
Cole: I know the Rangers have made the cutter kind of a preferred pitch over the last year. Have you talked to the organization about that yet?
Gutierrez: No, I haven't talked to anybody about that. I've only been here for a couple of days. But I report to Arizona for Instructional League on the 15th, so maybe I'll get together with the pitching coordinator and figure out what I can do to make me a better pitcher.
Cole: I've talked to some people that have seen you pitch in the past, and they all said you had a pretty good feel for your changeup. Can you talk about the development of that pitch not only this year, but also over the last couple of years? How confident are you in the pitch right now?
Gutierrez: In my start the other night, I had a really good feel for it. I got a good grip that I'm comfortable with now. I know it's a really good pitch and I need to have it. Last year, I really didn't throw it. I didn't feel like I needed to throw it. But as I got to High-A, I started throwing it a lot more. And obviously in Double-A I'm going to have to throw it a lot more, too. But I've got a good grip on it and I've got a good feel for it now.
Cole: Do you know approximately how many times you throw it in the game the other night?
Gutierrez: I'd say 15 to 20 times, maybe.
Cole: You mentioned the grip. Did you recently adjust the changeup grip?
Gutierrez: I changed it this year. I had trouble throwing it for strikes, and I finally found a grip that I'm comfortable with. I can throw it when I'm behind in the count and it has become a good pitch for me.
Cole: You talked about coming to instructs for the Rangers this year. I know you were on the Fall League roster for Surprise with the Royals. Are you still going to the AFL as a Ranger?
Gutierrez: Yeah, the Rangers are sending me to the Fall League, but I will be at instructs on the 15th. The Fall League doesn't start up until the seventh of October I think.
Cole: Is that kind of the Rangers wanting to get to know you and also get your innings up? I know you've only got about 30 innings this season.
Gutierrez: Yeah, that's what I'm thinking. They want me to get a couple more innings at instructs and then just head right into the Fall League.
Cole: Another thing the Royals guys mentioned about you was your performance at the 2007 Fall Instructional League. Everyone says that is when you really broke out as a prospect. What was it that happened for you at instructs in '07 that made the difference?
Gutierrez: When I was brought into the Royals organization, I was a sinkerball pitcher. In my rookie year, they changed that. The Braves people came over and said that we were going to throw four-seam, we're going to throw one breaking pitch, and we're going to throw a changeup. And I really didn't buy into that. And it showed, because '06 was not a good year.
So I came into instructs in '07 just with the whole mindset that I was going to buy into it, I was going to do what they say and I'm going to go out there and compete and pitch. It was a good time for me. I learned a lot. My curveball got a lot better and the control got a lot better. The way I repeated my windup—it all got a lot better.