Javy Guerra still has closer's job

April, 25, 2012
4/25/12
11:31
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- The first question, as it should have been, was with Javy Guerra's physical well-being, the Los Angeles Dodgers closer having been nailed on the left side of his jaw by a line drive in the top of the ninth inning. The quick answer, which came after an on-field examination by assistant trainer Greg Harrell, was that he was fine, which is why manager Don Mattingly allowed Guerra to continue pitching with a tenuous, one-run lead.

[+] EnlargeJavy Guerra
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJavy Guerra was hit on the left side of his jaw by a line drive and ultimately blew a save chance against the Braves.
The eventual, more definitive answer, which came after a battery of postgame tests to rule out a concussion, was also that Guerra was fine. But that came only after an apparently shellshocked Guerra went on to give up three more hits, blow a save for just the second time this season and be tagged with a defeat for the second consecutive evening, the Dodgers losing 4-2 to the Atlanta Braves before 26,345 on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.

The second question, quite predictably, was whether Guerra will continue to occupy the closer's role at a time when eighth-inning setup man Kenley Jansen, whose stuff, at least in theory, has always been better suited to that role than Guerra's anyway, continues to dominate.

The answer was yes. For now, anyway.

"Javy is the guy," Mattingly said. "Javy has been that guy the whole time. Our ballclub has confidence in Javy. The game will tell us what to do with him. If he gets in trouble there, we will put him in a different spot. But at this point, I'm not going to get into the whole closer thing. Six days ago, or five days ago, it wasn't a question. If you think that after two days I'm all of a sudden going to flip-flop, I'm not."

Guerra, whose jaw was visibly swollen and who admitted he still felt sore, said the pain in his jaw wasn't a factor in the rest of the inning.

"No, absolutely not," he said.

Still, Brian McCann's liner was the second of five consecutive one-out singles by the Braves off Guerra. Although Harrell checked Guerra out and gave Mattingly the OK for Guerra to continue, the fact Guerra later was undergoing tests for a possible concussion would seem to suggest it might have been smart to remove Guerra at that point, even if it was only for precautionary reasons. Besides, when Mattingly ultimately did pull Guerra, the guy he replaced him with was Josh Lindblom, who has been one of the Dodgers' most reliable relievers all season, and Lindblom quickly got out of the jam.

If Lindblom had come in right after Guerra got hit -- a point when the Dodgers still clung to a 2-1 lead and the Braves had runners at first and second with one out -- it is conceivable the game might not have gotten away.

"Greg made sure his jaw was lined up and that it didn't get broken," Mattingly said. "He was clear-eyed when he looked at me."

Guerra said he remembered seeing the ball coming at him, but that he simply didn't have time to get out of the way of it.

"I think if I could've gotten out of the way, it's probably a double play because of the way it was hit straight up the middle," he said. "And if I don't leave it up [in the zone], it doesn't come back at me."

Guerra said he wasn't aware of any restrictions being placed on him going forward, and the fact the Dodgers (13-6) are off Thursday should help in that area. For now, he remains the team's closer. But that doesn't mean there won't be changes in the Dodgers' bullpen. There are strong indications that Nathan Eovaldi will be officially recalled from Double-A Chattanooga before Friday night's game against the Washington Nationals. It isn't clear whom he will replace on the roster, although rookie Michael Antonini, who was recalled from Triple-A Albuquerque for the first time Tuesday and hasn't pitched yet, would seem a logical bet.

In the meantime, Guerra will have at least 48 hours to recover from what had to have been a traumatic experience. Whether it will continue to affect him on the mound, whether he will continue to struggle in the closer's role, whether he will even hold onto the closer's role much longer, all those are questions to which we won't know the answer for a while.

Tony Jackson

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
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OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .300
HRA. Gonzalez 25
RBIA. Gonzalez 111
RD. Gordon 90
OPSY. Puig .873
ERAC. Kershaw 1.80
SOC. Kershaw 228