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Counsell sees start as step forward for Guerra

Right-hander faces minimum through five innings before giving up two homers
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Brewers manager Craig Counsell believes Junior Guerra took a step in the right direction on Tuesday night, and Guerra agrees.

While the 32-year-old right-hander wasn't thrilled with how he finished his first start since the All-Star break, his manager thought he registered one of his best outings of the season in a 4-3 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park. Guerra held the Bucs to three runs on three hits over 5 2/3 innings. Two of those hits came in the sixth inning, and both were home runs.

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PITTSBURGH -- Brewers manager Craig Counsell believes Junior Guerra took a step in the right direction on Tuesday night, and Guerra agrees.

While the 32-year-old right-hander wasn't thrilled with how he finished his first start since the All-Star break, his manager thought he registered one of his best outings of the season in a 4-3 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park. Guerra held the Bucs to three runs on three hits over 5 2/3 innings. Two of those hits came in the sixth inning, and both were home runs.

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"They put a pretty good inning together against Junior," Counsell said. "He pitched extremely well for the first five innings. I thought it was probably the best we have seen him. I think there is something really positive to build on there for him.

"I thought that was Junior Guerra of last year for the first five innings."

Guerra didn't allow a baserunner the first time through the order, and he faced the minimum through five. He struck out four batters, induced four groundouts and retired five batters on three pitches or fewer.

His average velocity on his four-seam fastball (93.5) and two-seamer (93.0) were higher than his season averages of 91.7 and 91.3, respectively.

"His fastball was crisp tonight, for sure, as good as we've seen it," Counsell said. "It's always good when they are throwing harder."

Guerra's sixth-inning troubles started with a 2-1 splitter that he left up in the strike zone against Francisco Cervelli, who muscled it over the left-field fence for a solo shot. And after walking Starling Marte with two outs, he coughed up a two-run home run to Josh Harrison on a 3-1 fastball up in the zone. Counsell ended his outing after that.

"He fell behind in the count. … That's been a lot of what has gotten him in trouble this year," Counsell said.

As a 31-year-old rookie last season, Guerra surprised the baseball world with a 2.81 ERA that ranked No. 10 among National League pitchers who threw at least 100 innings, and his 10 home runs were the eighth fewest allowed by a NL pitcher. But he has struggled repeating that success in 2017. Guerra has only completed six innings four times in 11 starts, and he's already surrendered more home runs (15) than he did last year.

During the All-Star break, Guerra worked on his mechanics with Brewers pitching coach Derek Johnson, trying to get behind the ball instead of rushing forward too much.

"Before, I was trying to look forward for velocity, and now I am just trying to get back and get behind the ball," Guerra said. "I definitely feel like this a game for me to get me right on track."

"He's a big factor in our everyday game plan," Brewers center fielder Keon Broxton said. "It's nice to see him back tonight with his velocity and his command. Just continue doing that and we are going to battle for him."

Jonathan Toye is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh and covered the Brewers on Tuesday.

Milwaukee Brewers, Junior Guerra