A forearm injury in July derailed Junior Guerra’s excellent start to the 2018 season, diminishing the effectiveness of his signature split-finger and eventually leading to his removal from the starting rotation in September. Our hero was able to reinvent himself as a multi-inning reliever down the stretch, however, adding a devastating curveball to his arsenal while allowing only five hits, zero walks, and one run in seven appearances and 10.2 innings out of the bullpen during the final month of the season and into the playoffs. Guerra looked dominant at times while punching out 13 of the 35 batters he faced (37.1%).
And now according to Guerra himself, it sounds like the Milwaukee Brewers are planning on having him continue to fill the role that he shined so brightly in down the stretch.
Junior recently reported to his Venezuelan Winter League club, Tiburones de La Guiara, and pitched a scoreless one-inning debut against Caracas. Reports began to emerge regarding the restrictions placed on his workload by the Brewers, including pitching only as a reliever, never working on back-to-back days or for more than one inning, and only starting clean innings, not coming in during a high-stress situation caused by a different pitcher. Some of these restrictions are surely due to Milwaukee’s desire to protect Guerra’s arm after he pitched more than 180 innings between Spring Training, AAA, the big league regular and postseason, and Japan All-Star series in 2018 (plus 77.0 innings during the 2017-18 LVBP winter season), but Junior also provided some clarity about his role going forward during a recent interview with the Venezuelan media (translated from LVBP.com):
“Now I’m taking on a new role, working from the bullpen. These are conditions imposed on me by the team (Milwaukee Brewers) to throw here, because in the United States I’m not going to [start] games either.
They are clear that pitching in Venezuela does me a lot of good. The Brewers see me as the pitcher of the sixth or seventh [inning] in the 2019 season.”
Guerra has predominantly worked from the rotation during his three seasons in Milwaukee, but the veteran professional is no stranger to pitching out the of bullpen. He was a true swingman while pitching in the minors for the White Sox in 2015, starting 11 games and finishing 15 others (while recording 7 saves) during his 31 appearances between AA and AAA and then making three more outings as a reliever for Chicago at the Major League level. In fact, he has been called upon out of the bullpen in some 150+ games across the various levels and leagues that he’s pitched in professionally.
The mental does not affect so much, however in the physical aspect you have to be ready at all times, sometimes you [warm up] three times and do not throw, so you have to be well prepared physically.
After watching Guerra’s performance to conclude the 2018 season, it’s easy to dream on him becoming something of a right-handed compliment to Josh Hader as a middle-innings fireman in Milwaukee’s bullpen. GM David Stearns and manager Craig Counsell have been pretty open about their desire to continue to “blur the lines” between starter and reliever, which means that even if he’s not toeing the rubber to start games in 2019, Guerra could be in line for a rather significant multi-inning role. Should Counsell and Stearns indeed double down on the 27-outs philosophy that they deployed to perfection during September and October, that would mean plenty of shorter starts and a boatload of innings that need to be eaten up as a bridge to the guys like Corey Knebel and Jeremy Jeffress in the back end of the bullpen.
Guerra’s new assignment may mean that the bullpen is pretty well filled out for the upcoming season after the additions of Alex Claudio and Deolis Guerra. It also provides a little more clarity to the starting rotation picture, though there will still be plenty to sort out there once the team arrives in Spring Training. Jhoulys Chacin figures to once again sit atop the rotation, and Corbin Burnes appears primed for a run as a starter after an astounding debut season out of the bullpen in 2018. After that, one would expect there to be competition between Chase Anderson (if he’s not traded first), Zach Davies, Brandon Woodruff, and Freddy Peralta. Jimmy Nelson is a total wild card coming off shoulder surgery that kept him out all of 2018, but could factor into that mix if he’s healthy.
The team is believed to be on the lookout for more outside help in the starting pitching department, as well, having been linked to still available pitchers Dallas Keuchel, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Minor, Wade Miley, Yusei Kikuchi, Sonny Gray, Noah Syndergaard, and Madison Bumgarner at various points this offseason. Even if it isn’t one of these more notable names, it seems quite likely that Slingin’ Stearns and company will augment their starting pitching depth in some major or minor capacity before the caravan heads to Maryvale Baseball Park in February.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference