Javy Guerra fighting for spot in crowded Dodgers bullpen

USA TODAY Sports

The right-handed former closer is looking for a bounce back season in 2014, but faces an uphill battle in trying to win a coveted spot in the Dodgers bullpen.

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers and general manager Ned Colletti has spent a good portion of the winter acquiring bullpen depth, all but assuring the club will have one or more talented relief pitchers on the outside looking in at the opening day roster. The forgotten man of the bunch might just be Javy Guerra.

Two short years ago, Guerra opened the season as the Dodgers closer, but now he's out of options and fighting for a spot in a crowded pen.

More Guerra: 2013 review

The Dodgers have six players signed for 2014: Kenley Jansen (well, not technically signed yet but he'll have a contract soon enough), Brian Wilson, Chris Perez, J.P. Howell, Jamey Wright and Brandon League. Of those six, all but Wright have experience closing at some point, with between 21 and 171 career saves.

Guerra saved 29 games for the Dodgers in 2011-2012.

But by the end of 2012 Guerra was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque, adding insult to an injurious year that saw him lose his closing job, have right knee surgery to repair an injury caused by trying to get out of the way when he was hit in the face by a line drive, miss more time with a strained oblique, then have arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder.

Guerra entered 2013 healthy in spring training, and was even named as a replacement for Team Mexico for the World Baseball Classic. But after reporting and receiving a uniform and everything - Guerra called playing for Mexico "something I've always wanted to do" - he was deemed ineligible because of his offseason surgery.

A little more than a week later Guerra was optioned to minor league camp and tweeted, "Off to Vegas! Thx @dodgers for the off days! Happy St. Patricks day!" Guerra later deleted the tweet.

A focused Guerra showed up at the Dodgers winter development camp two weeks ago at Dodger Stadium, getting an early start on his preparation for 2014.

"Mentally I just had to clean up a lot. Just understand the situation you are in, understanding how thankful you should be, and really just prepping for the future,". Guerra said. "I know physically I can compete with anyone on the field."

Guerra had just one stint with the Dodgers, putting up a 6.75 ERA in nine games from April 30 to May 30, with 12 strikeouts in 10⅔ innings. He saved 12 games with Triple-A Albuquerque, with 36 strikeouts in 39⅓ innings in 27 games for the Isotopes.

"Last year was last year. I don't like to get into that. I think a lot of things have happened that could have turned around but it was really just growing up. Taking the offseason to grow up," Guerra said. "It's the business of baseball. You need to show your stripes every year. I didn't do it last year, but I need to go ahead and do it this year."

One important thing to note when thinking about the roster is that we often get too caught up in the opening day roster, when in fact the active 25-man roster is an ever-changing beast that can't properly be categorized in a single snapshot. In 2013 the Dodgers used nine different pitchers in relief in April alone, and that doesn't include Skip Schumaker.

Guerra was optioned in 2010, 2011 and 2013 (his 2012 option didn't count since it didn't last at least 20 days), so he's out of options, further complicating matters. If he doesn't make the opening day roster, the Dodgers can't keep him without first exposing him to waivers. If Guerra happens to clear waivers, the Dodgers could outright him to Triple-A (players can be outrighted - essentially removed from the 40-man roster and sent to the minors - without their consent one time in their careers; each subsequent assignment requires player approval). The Dodgers already lost one reliever in this fashion, as a post-surgery Shawn Tolleson was claimed off waivers by the Rangers in November.

Guerra faces an uphill battle in that, if we assume the Dodgers normally use a seven-man bullpen, he is in competition with Paco Rodriguez and Chris Withrow, key parts of the 2013 bullpen, especially the southpaw Rodriguez. But Guerra could gain some help with the early schedule.

After the Dodgers open the domestic portion of their schedule on March 30 in San Diego, which is after the Dodgers will have already played two regular season games in Australia, the team will have five off days in a 15-day span from March 31 to April 14.

If the Dodgers choose to do so, they could maneuver the roster such that a fifth starter won't be needed until April 19, their 18th game of the season. So if Josh Beckett coming off surgery or Dan Haren need some time on the disabled list to open the season, that could open up an eighth spot in the bullpen. That's how Josh Lindblom made the opening day roster in 2012, and he pitched well enough to stick the rest of the year, until he was traded in July, anyway.

But for Guerra to win a spot on the big league team again, roster machinations or otherwise, he'll have to perform well in spring training, and he knows it.

"At the end of the day I just want to be here. I like the place, I love the clubhouse. This is where I want to be," Guerra said. "I can control a little bit, so whatever I can control and come in the right mind frame. At the end of the day you have to throw strikes."

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