After nearly dying, Guerra grateful for second chance

Angels' Rule 5 pick, who had blood clot surgery in '13, seeking 'pen spot

After nearly dying, Guerra grateful for second chance

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It all happened way too fast. One minute, Deolis Guerra was experiencing discomfort while breathing. The next, he was being airlifted to a Tampa hospital for life-threatening surgery to repair a blood clot. This was 2013. Guerra didn't know if he was going to live, let alone pitch. It changed him.

"A lot," Guerra, in Angels camp looking to lock down a bullpen job, said in Spanish. "It changed my mentality a lot. When you feel like you can die, you start to value what you have a lot more. You value life a lot more. You value your job a lot more, and you pay a lot more attention to the things that are important in your life and the goals you set for yourself.

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"It gave me a point of view that you can go at any time, and you don't want to go out thinking that you didn't fight for what you wanted. God gave me another opportunity to keep living, so why not focus on the things that I need, the goals I set for myself, with my family, with my job? That changed me. It changed the way I see things."

Guerra was a fringe Minor League starter who moved to the bullpen in 2011 and didn't really come into his own until last season, while posting a 1.54 ERA, a 0.79 WHIP and 37 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings for the Pirates' Triple-A affiliate, good enough to earn a short stint in the Major Leagues. The Angels selected him in the Rule 5 Draft in December, thinking his split-finger fastball and 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame could fit in their bullpen.

Now 26, Guerra is three years removed from the biggest scare of his life.

It happened in Puerto Rico, while representing Venezuela in the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Guerra was experiencing chest pain and visited a local doctor, who informed Guerra he didn't have enough circulation running through the right side of his body.

Then with the Twins, the young right-hander flew to the team's Spring Training facility in Fort Myers, Fla., and was told his condition was serious. He was lifted onto a gurney, strapped to an IV and wheeled into a helicopter headed for Tampa General Hospital.

"That's when I started worrying a lot," Guerra said. "That's when I knew it was serious."

Blood clots, caused when blood thickens and clumps together, can cause heart attacks, strokes or other serious medical issues if they aren't treated in a timely fashion.

Guerra took blood thinners for about a week while doctors mapped out a way to fix the problem and also allow him to keep pitching professionally. They ultimately removed his first rib in order to free up blood flow, a three-hour procedure that kept Guerra in the hospital for 10 days. Guerra took blood thinners for six months and didn't feel 100 percent healthy for a full year.

He returned to game action by late August 2013, then pitched in winter ball and mostly stayed healthy in 2014.

"Everything turned out well, thankfully," Guerra said. "They did a great job."

Guerra spent most of last season studying those who excelled at his craft and trying to apply their habits to his own life. He noticed how standout Pirates relievers Tony Watson and Mark Melancon had routines they never deviated from, and soon Guerra began to do the same.

He started to work "a lot harder."

Guerra has returned to Tampa for two annual checkups and doctors have said his baseball career can continue unimpeded. Blood clots can come back, but reoccurrences are rare. All Guerra is left with is a five-inch scar on the top of his chest.

He tugged on his collar to display it proudly Monday morning, then he smiled.

"It gives me joy," Guerra said, "because I feel like God gave me a second chance to live, a second chance to do what I love, which is to play baseball. It gives me strength."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook , and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.