Los Angeles Dodgers: 5 Reasons It's Time for Javy Guerra to Step Aside
It seemed as if the Los Angeles Dodgers had found their closer in Javy Guerra until he blew one, then another and then almost lost his head at the same time, thus opening the door for upstart Josh Lindblom or setup man Kenley Jansen to take the vaunted ninth-inning spot.
Guerra is really no slouch, having saved seven of nine this year and coming off a stellar 2011 when he saved 21 of 23. He earned the closing spot, yet many are already calling for his "head." (For those who missed it, he almost got decapitated in a game against the Braves when a Brian McCann liner hit him in the jaw.)
Jansen, meanwhile, is one mean setup man. All he seems to do is strike out guys and has only given up two earned runs in 11 appearances.
Jansen has already had some closing chores and looks like the heir apparent.
But the Dodgers also have a true closer in the bullpen named Josh Lindblom and a bunch of prospects on their way up to the bigs.
Did Don Mattingly move too fast, or is it time for Guerra to take a seat?
Guerra Is Toast
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There is little question that Javy Guerra can close a game; little question that he has the moxie, the calm, the cool and the pitching style required of a solid closer.
Last year, Guerra pitched admirably. He seems to rely on guile more than his fastball or curve to score saves. Not your classic closer, Guerra finds a way to do it and that is what earned him the spot for the 2012 season.
Guerra came up from the minors last May and within a week, he had scored his first career save, pitching a scoreless ninth against the Houston Astros. Within a few weeks, he had his first win and the Dodgers quickly realized they had a viable substitute for the injured Jonathan Broxton.
At the end of the year, he finished with a respectable 2-2 record, 2.31 ERA and 21 saves.
In 2012, Guerra started where he left off and with Jansen setting him up, the Dodgers moved to the top of their division.
But after three straight games in which he gave up the losing or tying runs, it is time to look elsewhere.
With a team like the Dodgers, whose tight-wad ballpark, stingy starting pitchers and mediocre hitters tend turn every game into a close one, the closer ends up being the most important position on the team.
Too quick to make a change? Guerra may get another chance, but there are others waiting in the wings.
Josh Lindblom Is a Born Closer
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Josh Lindblom has been groomed as a closer.
After a short stint as a starter at Purdue (with a plus-5.00 ERA), Lindblom headed to the bullpen, his rightful place.
There, he shut down Big Ten hitters, allowing an average of .080 in his first six appearances and did not allow a run in his final seven appearances.
After being listed as being among the 75 top college baseball players by USA Baseball, the Dodgers took him in the second round of the 2008 draft.
He proved to be a strikeout artist in the minors and made his major league debut in relief on June 1, 2011 against the Colorado Rockies, allowing two hits in a scoreless seventh inning during a 3-0 Dodgers loss. He won his first game in August, pitching a scoreless 10th inning against the Houston Astros in a game the Dodgers won 1-0 in the bottom of that inning.
Like those famously successful Dodger closers Eric Gagne and Jonathan Broxton before him, Josh Lindblom is big, broad and bearded.
At 6'4" and 240 lbs., he possesses that imposing mass that batters hate to face and he puts all of it into his 90-plus mph fastballs.
Last year, he showed his stuff when he pitched in 29.2 innings with a 2.73 ERA and 28 strikeouts.
So far all Lindblom has done is shut down his opponents, proving that even though he may be a newbie, he is no slouch when it comes to shutting down hitters.
Their combined .135 batting average is proof of Lindblom's prowess on the mound.
His .73 ERA is proof of his command and knowledge of how to pitch out of the bullpen.
With Guerra stumbling and Jansen getting a look as closer, Lindblom has move up in Dodgers' closing ranks.
Don't be surprised if you see him moving to the mound in the ninth, taking his rightful place as closer.
Kenley Jansen Is Your Classic Closer
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You want your closer to be big, tough, with a fastball that has no end and, if possible, a mean or crazy disposition.
Look no further, Dodger fans. Here comes Kenley Jansen.
There is no reason to suspect Jansen is mean or crazy, but the speedball he throws seemingly cannot be hit.
Like a modern day Goose Gossage—or, better yet, former Dodger Eric Gagne—Jansen is a strikeout machine.
He even has the perfect name for a warrior: Kenley Geronimo Jansen.
Jansen came up with the Dodgers in 2010, appearing in 25 games, working 27 innings with a 1-0 record and a 0.67 ERA. He also saved four games that year.
In 2011, Jansen became a key member of the Dodgers bullpen. He was 2-1 with a 2.85 ERA in 53.2 innings and saved five games. He also struck out 96 batters, setting a new major league season record with 16.10 strikeouts per nine innings.
At 6'5" and 257 lbs., Jansen mixes his 92-94 mph cut fastball with a nasty four-seamer and a slider.
He was an excellent setup man for Guerra with a 2.45 ERA and 20-plus strikeouts in 12 innings.
But if his most recent two outings as the Washington Nationals is any example (two saves, 0.0 ERA, four Ks), then the Dodgers may have found their new closer.
There's More Where That Came From
One thing about the Dodgers is they never lack good pitching.
Waiting in the wings are some stellar prospects and a veteran who would love the chance to take Guerra's spot.
Chris Reed, the lanky 6'4" Stanford grad, worked his way through college as a closer and while he has yet to overwhelm anyone while in the minors, the Dodgers feel with a little wait and a little more weight, the Los Angeles native will soon be up in the bigs.
Sinker specialist Jamey Wright has played with a bunch of teams in his 13-year career, but Mattingly has already used him in key situations during the Guerra debacle. Could he close? He's done everything else on the mound.
What better guy to have on the mound in the ninth than an ex-football player. That's what Zach Lee did at LSU, where he was a standout, and now he brings that toughness to the Dodgers' minor league Rancho Cucamonga Quakes. His 90-plus mph fastball blends perfectly with a nifty curve that give batters fits.
Shawn Tolleson may be the best prospect of all. The Baylor product made an easy transition from college starter to professional closer. He finished second in the Dodgers organization with 25 saves, while also striking out 13.7 batters per nine innings. Like many Dodger closers of old, he deftly mixes his 96 mph fastball with a gut-checking changeup.
Looks like Javy Guerra better not look back...because they're gaining on him.
The Dodgers Have to Strike While They Are Hot
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The Los Angeles Dodgers are hot, hot, hot and they cannot wait on anybody.
They are tied with the Texas Rangers with the best record in baseball (16-6) and while everyone would have picked Texas to be there, virtually no one would have selected the Dodgers.
That means they have to keep things going in the winning direction.
If that also means having a short leash on some players, then so be it.
And, if that means sitting Guerra in favor of Jansen or Lindblom or whoever, then Manager Mattingly has got to strike while the iron is hot.
It would be one thing if there was no one behind him, but the Dodgers have a long history of having plenty of pitching and this year, when their starters (Clayton Kershaw, Chris Capuano, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly and Aaron Harang) are being very stingy with runs, there is even more reason to have a rock-solid closer who can work with only a one- or two-run lead.
There is no room for error and no time to see if Guerra can get it back.