Crew convinces Guerra not to pitch winter ball

Coming off stellar rookie season, Venezuelan righty will stick to normal program

Crew convinces Guerra not to pitch winter ball

MILWAUKEE -- Venezuelan baseball fans were abuzz Thursday after Junior Guerra told reporters he would make a pair of starts in that country's winter league postseason.

By Friday morning, the Brewers had convinced him otherwise.

"We have spoken to the winter ballclub [Tiburones de La Guaira] and I spoke to Junior this morning," Brewers general manager David Stearns said, "and we have informed both of them that we are not going to permit Junior to pitch in winter ball this season.

"Obviously, Junior was disappointed. Junior has pitched in winter ball a lot in his career, and he feels a great deal of solidarity with the winter ball fans and the winter ball organization. But at this point, we really feel it is in his best interest and in the Brewers' best interest for him to focus exclusively on getting ready for Spring Training and ultimately getting ready for the [Major League] season. He can best do that by going through his normal throwing program and not pitching in the high pressure, intense environment that a winter ball playoff creates."

As a 31-year-old rookie, Guerra posted a 2.81 ERA in 121 2/3 innings for Milwaukee in 2016 after working 26 2/3 innings for Triple-A Colorado Springs. He missed most of August with an elbow injury, and made three September starts before the Brewers shut him down as a precaution, content that he had proven he was healthy.

Guerra's 6 1/3 solid innings

Guerra told reporters he would throw 50 to 60 pitches in his first postseason start, and "a little bit more" in the second, according to Venezuelan news reports. Translations of those reports seemed to suggest Milwaukee had given its blessing, but that proved inaccurate.

Technically, Guerra did not cross the innings threshold for the Brewers to formally prohibit his participation. But considering Guerra's workload compared to previous seasons, club officials suggested at the end of the Major League season it would be best he skip winter ball for the first time since at least 2007, and rest up for his first full season in the big leagues.

A player with history in winter ball often faces pressure to pitch in his homeland, especially a player coming off a breakthrough season like Guerra's. It is not uncommon for such players to make public announcements about pending participation in winter ball, forcing their Major League organization to swoop in and urge otherwise.

"I think most players understand that a Major League organization's recommendation is fairly firm," Stearns said. "Had we allowed him, I think Junior would have preferred to pitch in winter ball. But given what our wishes are, he understands and ultimately he will not pitch this year in winter ball."

Still at issue is Guerra's participation for Venezuela in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. That question will be settled in the coming weeks.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.