Guerrier would welcome chance to close

Guerrier would welcome chance to close

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Less than a year ago, Matt Guerrier still held out hope that one day he might move back to a starting role.

The Twins' right-handed reliever has seen his career path take him from a spot-starting, long reliever with the Twins in 2005 to their primary setup man in 2009. But even up until the middle of the '09 season, Guerrier said he still felt that perhaps one day he would once again be a starting pitcher.

"But now that I've kind of done a couple of years of making a lot of appearances and pitching a lot of innings, I think that suits me more than starting," Guerrier said. "Five or six years in, I don't know if that's the time to start over. I like pitching out of the 'pen. I think it's where I belong."

The Twins certainly feel fortunate to have Guerrier in their bullpen, as he proved himself to be one of the most effective setup men in baseball in 2009. And with Joe Nathan set to undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery this week, Guerrier is now considered to be one of the club's closing candidates.

"It's all seemed relatively quick to me, to be honest," Guerrier said of his transition from long reliever to late-inning option. "Last year, I wasn't even in the running to set up early on, and then because of injuries and things that went on, I kind of got forced back into the spot. To even be mentioned as a possibility to fill in for a guy like Joe, it's crazy to think about, but exciting."

The Twins have yet to decide who will fill Nathan's role at the back end of the bullpen. There have been a lot of discussions that have taken place about their options. Of their current relievers, Jon Rauch has the most Major League experience in the role, while Jesse Crain spent a lot of time doing it in the Minors. Minnesota has even mentioned Francisco Liriano as an option based on his ability as a strike-out pitcher.

Guerrier doesn't have what many would call prototypical closer stuff, but he's got another thing that the Twins place a lot of value in -- heart.

"We had a guy a couple years ago -- Bobby Korecky -- he's got a lot of guts and just wants the ball. You love to have those guys around, and Matty is one of them," pitching coach Rick Anderson said. "Same with Eddie Guardado -- he didn't have the best stuff in the world, but he knew he could beat anybody, and that's Matty. He doesn't have the greatest stuff. He's got four average, very good pitches. Nothing like, 'Wow,' but he's got all four pitches."

Knowing how to mix in all four of those pitches -- fastball, curveball, slider and changeup -- is also something that Guerrier prides himself on. Guerrier's not afraid to use any of the pitches in a certain situation, and he said it's a key for him since he's primarily a contact pitcher.

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There is also the confidence Guerrier has in knowing that he can recover from tough situations. That experience came from bouncing back after the 2008 season, when he went from being one of the club's most frequently used pitchers in the first half to one struggling down the stretch.

After posting a 3.35 ERA in 51 innings in the first half of 2008, Guerrier saw that the large number of innings he was pitching had started take a toll. Over the final two months, he posted a 10.07 ERA in 19 2/3 frames. Guerrier never used fatigue as an excuse, although the Twins' coaching staff admits it likely played a factor.

"We probably overpitched him in '08," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "We threw him too many innings and wore him out more than anything else. He's easy to call down to the bullpen and get up, because he always takes the ball and does a good job."

Guerrier led the league in appearances (79) again in 2009 and his inning count was the same as the previous year (76 1/3 innings in '08 and '09). But there were some differences. The Twins tried to limit the number of times they had him warming up in the 'pen, and Guerrier said he learned a little about his mental approach to the game.

"I sat back and thought, 'If I'm thinking about this, I'm not thinking about bad things,'" Guerrier said. "So I've tried to keep the same thoughts in my head every time I go out there. I don't think about what's going to happen or what could happen or what happened the day before. Every day of '08, I was trying to forget the day before. I was doing a good job of it, but [I was] still getting my butt kicked. So even when I had success, I remembered '08 and told myself to forget the good ones as well."

The biggest thing, Guerrier said, was that he didn't make any drastic alterations following that 2008 season. He realized that sticking with what had gotten him to this point in his career might be the best thing, and that's exactly what he did. It led to success, as he posted a 5-1 record with a 2.36 ERA, which was the ninth-lowest ERA among relievers with at least 50 innings pitched.

Guerrier and Nathan are close friends, so the reliever admits it's been especially tough to see Nathan go through this kind of season-ending injury. Guerrier, like many of his teammates, has stressed how it's impossible to replace a guy like Nathan, who has led the league in saves since 2004. Still, the feeling is that there are guys in the clubhouse that can do the job. And while it's not an easy situation to step into, Guerrier said he'd gladly close if that's what the coaches choose.

"At times, when I've been out there for that situation, I feel confident," said Guerrier, who has four career saves. "I think if you are in the bullpen, that's what you want to do at some point in your career -- have a chance to set up and then to close. Obviously you wouldn't want it to happen in this scenario, but I would love the opportunity."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.