Souhan: Guerrier looking for good old days

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 19, 2014 - 12:09 AM

The former Twin with arm trouble returned to make comeback in place where he was comfortable.

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Matt Guerrier, left, shook hands with catcher Matt Koch after throwing in the bullpen Monday Feb 17, 2014 in Fort Myers, Florida at the Lee County Sports Complex.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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– Jason Bartlett still wears some sort of Mohawk. Well, either it’s a Mohawk, or his stylist will soon be on trial for crimes against humanity.

Eddie Guardado still struts through the spring training clubhouse, waging a one-man campaign against silence.

Jason Kubel is on his way to camp, and Matt Guerrier, like the other old-timers, looks just like he did way back when the Twins were good. (That happened. You can look it up.)

Guardado is serving as a celebrity coach. Bartlett, Kubel and Guerrier are hoping to build second baseball lives with the team where they first enjoyed big-league success. In Guerrier’s case, this is baseball justice.

Back when Twins middle relievers were stepladders to victory instead of sandbags tossed in front of floodwaters, Guerrier became the staff socket wrench, used for jobs of any size.

Claimed off waivers from the Pirates after the 2003 season, Guerrier excelled as a long reliever, and gradually moved to more important roles. In his six full seasons with the Twins, Guerrier pitched anywhere from 69⅔ to 88 innings. His ERA as a Twin is 3.38. In his last four years as a Twin, he pitched in at least 73 games.

Some scouts believe that most middle relievers will succeed every other year. If they pitch well one year, their manager will use them frequently, leading to arm fatigue and possibly injury the next season. Guerrier bucked that trend for five of his six years in Minnesota. The aberration: When he hit a wall near the end of the 2008 season.

“Guys who are strictly setup guys can probably back it up year to year, and closers are protected a little bit, because they’re not brought in with guys on base,’’ Guerrier said. “Middle guys, you might come in with guys on base and one out and a one-run lead. Even if you face one batter, those are stressful situations. Then you pitch in possibly 75 games because you pitch when you’re winning and you pitch when you’re losing, and trying to keep the score the same. That’s a lot of innings, a lot of appearances and times getting up to warm.

“It could be the next season, where you’re struggling, you don’t get used as much, then your innings are down, your appearances are down, and you’re in less stressful situations, and you can give your arm a break. Then you come back the next year and your arm feels great and they use you again a lot.’’

Guerrier didn’t follow the every-other-year pattern. For seven seasons, including his first with the Dodgers, he pitched at least 66 innings, and only in 2008 was his final ERA above 4.07. With Guerrier, the effect of so many stressful appearances didn’t manifest itself until a couple of winters ago. He played catch, and felt something in his right arm.

He managed seven appearances in 2012 before he went on the disabled list. In 2013, the Dodgers designated him for assignment, then traded him to the Cubs, who shut him down for the season in August after he tore the flexor muscle in his right forearm.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been healthy,’’ he said. “Yesterday made it six months since my surgery.’’

He hasn’t thrown breaking pitches off a mound yet. Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson guessed Guerrier might not pitch in a game until the ninth or 10th of March.

Guerrier, 35, knows he’s not assured of a job. He chose the Twins over other suitors because he wanted to work with people who know his history and his arm, like Anderson and Twins trainer Dave Pruemer.

“I figured I could at least come here and work with Andy in the spring and get back to doing some things I haven’t been doing with my mechanics the last few years,’’ he said. “I felt like I had a good relationship with Dave, I could work with him and see how far I can come in terms of health this spring. It’s just a comfortable thing for me, to be here.’’

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire lauds players who “battle their tails off.’’ Guerrier came close to pitching his arm off. He’s worth another look, at the least.

 

Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. His Twitter name is @SouhanStrib.

jsouhan@startribune.com

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