PITTSBURGH — Denton native Javy Guerra sat at his locker in the Washington Nationals clubhouse, laughing with several of his teammates about two hours before game time last Thursday.
One of the televisions in the middle of the rooms showed the Chicago Cubs posting a home day win against the Giants while another screen had on the Little League World Series.
The Billy Ryan High School graduate wore shorts and a red T-shirt referring to the latest craze in the nation’s capital: Parra’s Sharks. The shirts became popular after Washington veteran Gerardo Parra began using “Baby Shark” as his walk-up song soon after he was acquired by the Nationals in May.
“My son, who is two, loves it. He goes crazy,” said Guerra, who is engaged and has one child.
The Nationals have been going crazy on the field of late and Guerra, 33, a veteran pitcher, has been along for the ride.
Thanks to Parra, each Nationals player that hits a homer is obliged to do some sort of dance move once they get back to the dugout. That has included veteran second baseman Brian Dozier, who calls his moves “borderline inappropriate,” to starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg — who had to think fast after hitting a rare homer in July.
The celebrations in the dugout have been matched on the field. The Nationals improved to a season-high 13 games over .500 at 70-57 with a 7-1 win here on Thursday night against the Pirates. Guerra got the last three outs without allowing a run as he lowered his ERA for the season, while with two teams, to 4.69.
Washington was 19-31 in late May but has battled back and entered Friday afternoon’s contest in Chicago against the Cubs six games back of first-place Atlanta in the National League East.
Guerra began the season with the Toronto Blue Jays, where he was 0-0 with 3.86 in 11 games out of the bullpen.
But he was claimed off waivers by the Nationals on May 20 — just days before the team hit rock bottom after being swept in four games against the Mets in New York. Washington manager Dave Martinez noted the experience that Guerra had in the National League East with Miami in 2017 and 2018. “He’s been in this division,”
Martinez told reporters in May. “He knows the hitters, so just getting him in here and getting him settled in a little bit. I think he’s a guy that gives us a little bit more length as well.”
But then Guerra was designated for assignment for the Nationals in late July. He went around the clubhouse that day thanking coaches and players, telling some to go win the World Series. He had no way to know that days later he would be back with the team.
“You just never know. I regret not saying bye and thank you to a lot of people in Toronto,” he said. “I loved my time there and my teammates.
“This time I was more adamant about it; you never know,” he said of those goodbyes to Washington. “At least I felt better letting everyone know.”
But he was picked up a few days later by Washington after injuries to other pitchers.
Guerra certainly earned his stripes upon his return to the Nationals.
He came out of the bullpen on Aug. 14 and got the save while throwing three innings even though he gave up five hits and three runs against the Cincinnati Reds.
Three days later he went three innings and was tagged with the loss as he allowed four hits and three runs as the Brewers won 15-14 in 14 innings in Washington.
The roller-coaster extended to Aug. 19, when he pitched 3.2 innings and this time got the win as he did not allow a run or hit in a victory here in Pittsburgh.
Guerra, who lives in Arizona in the off-season, said he has to be prepared every day.
“This time of year is tough,” he said. “You never know what you are going to get. For us in the pen, you have to be ready for any situation that happens. You never know what to expect. Sometimes guys go down. Bullpening is such a big part of the game. You have to be ready.”
Guerra played one year of football at Ryan High but decided to focus on baseball. He was a standout pitcher in high school and was drafted in the fourth round by the Dodgers in 2004. One of his high school teammates was Austin Jackson, a veteran of the big leagues as an outfielder from 2010-18 after playing last year with the Mets.
Guerra plugged away in the minors before making the majors in 2011.
Guerra didn’t know too many people when he joined Washington. He was teammates in Miami with fellow pitcher Kyle Barraclough, who began this year with the Nationals but has since been let go. The Denton native was teammates with the White Sox with Adam Eaton, now the regular right fielder for Washington. Howie Kendrick, a veteran infielder, and Guerra share the same California-based agency.
“That helped a little bit,” said Guerra, whose mother and sister still live in Denton. “It was a little easier to walk in.”
Guerra enjoys playing with Martinez, a former Major League outfielder and first baseman.
“Davey is great. It is a nice blend of a player who is now running a team,” said Guerra, whose wedding is set for November. “That door is always open.”
Paul Menhart, a former pitching coordinator in the minors, became the Washington pitching coach in early May when Derek Lilliquist was let go.
“Paul is easy to work with. He lets you know what he expects,” Guerra said. “All and all I could not complain about the interactions we have had.”
Guerra has enjoyed being teammates with ace pitcher Max Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner. He started in Pittsburgh on Thursday and went four inning after being out of action for nearly a month.
“The intensity, it is not a gimmick. It is not fake. That is who he is,” Guerra said.
DAVID DRIVER has covered the Washington Nationals and MLB for several years. He can be reached at davidsdriver.com and @DaytonVaDriver.