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Deolis Guerra, unsung bullpen glue guy

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Shout out for a quietly effective reliever

Oakland Athletics v Detroit Tigers Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

We’ve talked a lot about the Oakland A’s bullpen this year, for better or worse.

Entering the spring it was all about exciting and expensive new closer Trevor Rosenthal, but he got hurt before the season began and never ended up throwing a pitch.

Then for a few months it was all about Lou Trivino, Jake Diekman, and Yusmeiro Petit, who seemed to play virtually every day and did a great job locking down leads in the first half of the year.

Then that trio began to show signs of wear, and Sergio Romo stepped up along with new trade acquisition Andrew Chafin to take over duties in the 9th inning.

Along the way we said goodbye to mainstay J.B. Wendelken, wondered at the collapse of offseason pickup Adam Kolarek, and got glimpses of prospects like A.J. Puk and Domingo Acevedo.

But through it all, there has been one steady presence in the middle innings, ready to chew through some frames. Whether that means keeping the team in the game early after a quick hook for the starter, keeping them close when they trail late, or mopping up at the end of a blowout, Deolis Guerra has been a reliable glue guy for the bullpen.

The A’s signed the journeyman veteran to a minor league contract last winter, the kind of under-the-radar move you only notice after it works. Guerra didn’t make the Opening Day roster, but after the first week of the season he was called up to the majors and he’s been in Oakland ever since. He hasn’t seen much time in high-leverage situations, but he’s helped in a variety of low/mid-leverage spots.

The right-hander made his mark right away in his second appearance in April. He entered in the 4th with Oakland trailing 5-1 and logged three scoreless innings, and by the time he exited the A’s had tied the game and later went on to win. The comeback was the headline, but it was Guerra’s quiet effort that had bought time to make it possible.

He played a similar role last night against the Rangers. The starter was knocked out in the 3rd inning, with Oakland clinging to a two-run lead, and Guerra got seven outs to take it through the 5th. His long effort eased the workload for the rest of the bullpen, and while he was spinning zeroes his teammates were rebuilding their lead back up to six runs. He entered a close game and exited a blowout, eventually being credited with the win in the box score.

He’s recorded at least four outs on 15 occasions, gone at least two innings eight times, and finished three frames thrice. When he’s not serving as a long man, he’s often tossing one inning when the A’s are down just one or two runs. One way or other, his job is usually to buy time when it’s not a setup situation but the game isn’t quite decided yet.

  • Guerra: 3.56 ERA, 55⅔ ip, 51 Ks, 17 BB, 5 HR, 3.57 FIP, .260 xwOBA

He’s had his share of bad days, and he did take a loss when asked to hold a tie in the 9th, but he’s never gone through any kind of lengthy slump. Overall his ERA is better than average, with solid rates of strikeouts, walks, and homers to back it up, and Statcast is impressed as well. The average exit velocity of batted balls against him is 85.3 mph, one of the lowest in the majors.

The 32-year-old doesn’t rely on velocity, averaging under 91 mph on his heater, but he gets good spin on it. His changeup earns a lot of swinging strikes, and he mixes in a slider, sinker, and curve to keep opponents off balance. He’s at his best when he’s locating on the edges of the zone and then getting hitters to chase outside of it, either for a whiff or some weak contact.

Nothing about Guerra is flashy. He arrived here quietly, he works the innings you’re least likely to be paying attention to, and he does it with an unassuming arsenal of pitches. But he’s been a dependable, quality part of the pitching staff during a year when the bullpen around him has been in constant flux, and Friday night he played a clutch role in a big win.