Guerra's On the Comeback Trail

Javy Guerra has already overcome one obstacle that stood in his way of becoming an accomplished pitcher. Now, he's working on surmounting a second one. Back in 2004 when Javy was pitching for Billy Ryan High in Denton, Tex., he was regarded as not only one of the best pitchers in that state, he was one of the top prospects in the country.

After all, he could get the ball plateward upwards of 97 mph. There was a major caveat, though.

That was because when he released the ball, he had the unorthodox habit of hopping toward the plate. Some times, he seemed to be delivering the ball three or four feet from in front of the mound. He was getting away with it in those games but scouts knew that he'd never be allowed to do so when he became a pro. So, many shied away.

The Dodgers thus were able to get a player who probably would have been a late first or early second-rounder under normal conditions down in the fourth round. They were willing to take the gamble because they knew they had George Culver around to work with Guerra.

George was the pitching coach with the Gulf Coast team then- a very knowledgeable, patient ex-big leaguer who was an ideal instructor for the raw material he was presented with. In this case, he went to work with Guerra, teaching him new mechanics which didn't involve propelling himself toward the plate.

In his first outing, Javy had eliminated the hop. As might be expected, though, he wasn't exactly comfortable on the mound., The result was he did his best impression of Nuke LaLoosh. If there had been spectators at the game, they would have been in mortal danger as his deliveries went everywhere except over the plate.

But after that painful beginning, he and George kept working and the improvement was startling. So much did he learn that by the end of that summer, he was just about the best pitcher in the league, winding up a very creditable 4-1, 3.38, holding hitters down to a .214 mark.

So much improved was he that he was jumped to Columbus at the start of last season. However, from the beginning it was evident that something major was wrong. It turned out to be elbow problems so severe that Tommy John surgery was required. Thus, early in the year, Guerra was finished for the season.

After the lengthy rehab that's always required, he's back now. He began n the Gulf Coast League, showed he was ready so was advanced to Ogden. So, how's he doing ?

Pretty well, so far. He's pitched in three games- two good ones, one not so good. He's limited on pitches, of course, so has been used in three-inning stints. He's cranking his fast ball up into the low 90's and seems stronger all the time. He's had some command issues which is rather to be expected but has held the opposition to a 1.98 ERA. Not bad at all.

Javy's not a big man at 6-1, 185 but is compact and strong. He's still just 20 years old so has the advantage of youth as he recovers. The prognosis is good as is the progress. He's getting in his work so that by next year, the hope is that he'll be moving up as he demonstrates once again the latent ability he's always had.

Not everybody comes back from this surgery to be effective. But then, not everybody had to learn a new style of pitching at the very beginning of his career, either. He did that successfully and he feels certain he'll accomplish this, too.