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Dodgers rookie Javy Guerra takes on high-pressure closer role

Dodgers rookie Javy Guerra says he's surprised that what initially looked like a two-week stay in the majors has seen him become the Dodgers' de facto closer.

July 17, 2011|By Dylan Hernandez
  • Javy Guerra started the season in Double-A Chattanooga but went into Saturday with a 2.29 earned-run average in 20 appearances with the Dodgers, going 5 for 5 in save opportunities.
Javy Guerra started the season in Double-A Chattanooga but went into Saturday… (Rob Grabowski / US Presswire )

Reporting from Phoenix — More than two months removed from the day he was called up to the major leagues for the first time, Javy Guerra says he's surprised by the way his season has unfolded.

What initially looked like a two-week stay has turned into much more. Guerra is essentially the Dodgers' closer.

"I always wanted to do this," Guerra said. "So did I envision it? Yes. But realistically? Probably not."

Guerra, who started the season at double-A Chattanooga, began Saturday with a 2.29 earned-run average in 20 appearances. He was five for five in save opportunities.

But Guerra said the transition from double A to the majors has been rougher than it might appear.

"I'm still giving up hits," he said.

Opposing hitters were batting .286 against him through Friday.

Manager Don Mattingly has been reluctant to call Guerra his closer — "It's hard to say that about a guy who doesn't have a whole lot of time in," he said — but conceded that he considers the rookie his "ninth-inning guy."

Mattingly said that although most closers have two pitches, Guerra has as many as four — a fastball, a cutter, a curveball and a changeup.

"He has some weapons," Mattingly said.

Guerra said he has received countless tips from sidelined closer Jonathan Broxton, who often watches videos with him and presents him with various possible scenarios.

Guerra, 25, said his major league experience has been enhanced by playing in a market that reflects his background.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Guerra grew up in a Spanish-speaking household in the Dallas suburb of Denton. He grew up cheering for Mexican soccer club Chivas of Guadalajara but preferred playing baseball.

"Running wasn't my thing," he said.

Guerra said his background has helped him connect with his Latin American teammates. In the minor leagues, he often served as an interpreter for teammates who didn't speak English.

He said he has also been able to connect with the Dodgers' heavily Latino fan base.

He said he can't recall the number of times fans shouted at him in Spanish and were delighted to learn he spoke their language.

"The love I've gotten in L.A. is unbelievable," he said.

Rivera back in the lineup

The Dodgers weren't facing a left-hander Saturday, but Mattingly said he forced newcomer Juan Rivera into the lineup because he wanted to see how he fared against a right-hander in Ian Kennedy.

Rivera started at first base in place of James Loney.

Reflecting on his Dodgers debut the previous night, Rivera said: "I felt more concentrated than usual. I was looking for something I could hit. It happened to come in my first at-bat."

The first pitch, in fact. And Rivera hit it over the left-field wall.

"I was nervous," Rivera said. "But after that first at-bat, I calmed down. I'm always that way. The first at-bat of every game, I'm nervous."

Rivera said his new teammates made him feel welcome.

"The team is behind in the standings, but there appears to be a nice atmosphere in here," he said.

dylan.hernandez@latimes.com

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