CHICAGO – Until the major-league teams get a look at Junior Guerra’s fastball, changeup, split-finger pitch and curveball all anybody really knows about the 30-year-old rookie is that he obviously has perseverance.
Upon seeing his White Sox jersey hanging at a locker, with “Guerra’ on the back and a No. 63 below it, the Venezuela native broke out into a smile.
“I was waiting for this moment for many years,” Guerra said through an interpreter. “That dream, that possibility to reach your dream, was my motivation. I had a very good season in Venezuela last winter. I think that was the jump I needed to be here. And because of that the White Sox give me the opportunity to sign a minor-league contract and I did my job in the minors, now I’m here.”
Guerra had every reason to think this moment wouldn’t even happen. He was in the New York Mets organization until 2008, but was set adrift after a 50-game suspension, reportedly for PEDs, to experience a six-year voyage of non-affiliated baseball until the White Sox signed him as a free agent in October.
Guerra had pitched in Italy, Mexico, Spain and his native Venezuela since 2008. His last job in the United States before this year was pitching for Wichita in the independent American Association in 2013.
All during his one-of-a-kind journey, he kept a day like Sunday in mind.
“It’s a unique experience,” Guerra said. “It has been my dream my whole career. It’s surreal. It’s kind of surreal, but I’m very happy and glad to be here right now.”
Guerra had eight starts among his 12 appearances in the minor leagues this year but will be used as a reliever with the White Sox. Between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte he had a 2-6 record with a 2.72 ERA. Most impressive were his 66 strikeouts and 19 walks in 49 2/3 innings.
In Venezuela this past winter, Guerra went 6-4 with a 3.46 ERA over 19 starts.
“It’s a nice day when somebody gets to do that and come up here and get a shot at it,” manager Robin Ventura said. “It’s says a lot about what they’re doing down in the minor leagues and getting these guys going, and he’s pitching the best. You want to reward that.”
Guerra calls his fastball his best pitch, complementing that with a hard-sinking split-finger pitch. The time has finally come when he can show the full arsenal to major-league hitters.
“I’ve been pitching in many different countries and I learned just to keep working and never put my head down,” Guerra said. “Always keep the optimism and confidence in my talent. That’s been the key for me to get here right now.”