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Location, velocity concerns for Guerra

MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

CINCINNATI -- His walk rate is up, his strikeout rate is down, and baseballs are flying over fences with regularity. Was last year the real Junior Guerra, or is this?

The Brewers' right-hander was looking for answers on Tuesday after allowing four home runs in four-plus innings of an 8-6 loss to the Reds. Guerra matched the most home runs allowed by a Major League pitcher this season and came within one dinger of a dubious Brewers record last set by Randy Wolf in 2010. Guerra has now surrendered more home runs this season (11) than he did in all of last season (10) in 80 fewer innings.

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CINCINNATI -- His walk rate is up, his strikeout rate is down, and baseballs are flying over fences with regularity. Was last year the real Junior Guerra, or is this?

The Brewers' right-hander was looking for answers on Tuesday after allowing four home runs in four-plus innings of an 8-6 loss to the Reds. Guerra matched the most home runs allowed by a Major League pitcher this season and came within one dinger of a dubious Brewers record last set by Randy Wolf in 2010. Guerra has now surrendered more home runs this season (11) than he did in all of last season (10) in 80 fewer innings.

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"They were all fastballs they hit out. Bad locations," Guerra said through translator Carlos Brizuela. "Yeah, my velocity is a little lower than last year. I'm just hoping to get back to it.

"But at the same time, I have to be able to locate it."

Brewers manager Craig Counsell cited the same concern: Fastball location.

"He's been wiggling his way out of some things and surviving," Counsell said, "but tonight they made him pay for his mistakes."

Of Guerra's diminished velocity, Counsell said, "It's down a little bit, but that's not what I'm concerned about. The location is hurting him right now more than the velocity."

Guerra, who has seven starts in the books since a six-week stint on the disabled list for a right calf strain suffered on Opening Day, topped out at 93.6 mph on Tuesday and surrendered each of his home runs on four-seam fastballs that were between 90 and 92.7 mph.

Guerra's four-seam fastball is averaging 91.9 mph this season compared to 93.8 mph a year ago, according to Statcast™. Of his 331 four-seam fastballs tracked by Statcast™ this season, the firmest has clocked in at 94.5 mph. Last year, Guerra threw more than a quarter of his four-seam fastballs (296 of 1,141) harder than that, and he topped out at 97.4 mph.

And the issue may actually be worse than those figures suggest. A change from the PITCHf/x system to Statcast™, which measures velocities right out of a pitcher's hand, has led to a slight uptick in velocity readings across Major League Baseball this season.

Meanwhile, Guerra's velocity is noticeably down.

"I don't really have an answer for that," Guerra said. "I feel like if I did have an answer, it would be an excuse. You can't really have excuses right now. You just have to keep working hard and try to improve from this."

Guerra's strikeouts per nine innings have fallen from 7.40 last season to 6.26 this season while his walks per nine innings have increased from 3.18 to 5.40. Last year, 8.3 percent of fly balls against Guerra cleared the fence. This year, that rate is up to 20 percent.

For those looking for more than ERA, fielding independent pitching (FIP) helps measure the events a pitcher can himself control, removing balls into the field of play and focusing on strikeouts, unintentional walks, hit-by-pitches and home runs. Guerra's FIP last year was 3.71. This season, it is up to 7.20, fourth-worst among pitchers who have logged more than 30 innings. That is one reason Guerra's results were cause for concern in spite of the respectable 3.11 ERA he carried into Tuesday's start.

Guerra was clear about one thing: He is 100 percent healthy.

"Everything is fine right now," Guerra said, emphasizing his point by answering in English.

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.

Milwaukee Brewers, Junior Guerra