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Happy Birthday Juan Guzman

And Casey Lawrence and Josh Thole

Juan Guzman

Juan Guzman turns 56 today.

Guzman was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. The Dodgers signed him as an amateur free agent in 1985. Pat Gillick traded Mike Sharperson to LA for him, giving Pat an easy win, not that Pat was short on wins in his career.

Though apparently, the Blue Jays thought they were getting Jose Offerman in the deal, there was a difference of opinion on the matter, and we got Juan. The Jays used him as a reliever in the minors at first. Guzman points to pitching 1 or 2 innings as part of the reason he had control issues, that it was hard to work on his control in such short outings, and he might have a point there.

The Jays called Juan up to the Majors in early June 1991; the rotation was a bit of a mess behind the top three of Stottlemyre, Key, and Wells. Dave Stieb was hurt, and Denis Boucher didn’t pan out and got traded to Cleveland with Glenallen Hill and Mark Whiten for Tom Candiotti and Turner Ward.

Juan made his first start on June 7th and stayed in the rotation for the rest of the season. He was great, going 10-3 with a 2.99 ERA. He had 123 strikeouts in 138.2 innings and gave up too many walks (66) but kept the hitting to a minimum (98). Guzman was equally great against left-handed batters (holding them to a .201 BA) as right-handed batters (.193 BA). He was second in the AL in Rookie of the Year voting to Chuck Knoblauch. Unfortunately, we lost out in the ALCS to the Twins that year in 5 games. Guzman had our only win in game two of the series.

He was in our starting rotation the following year, though he missed most of August with a strained back muscle. He was again excellent, with a 16-5 record and a 2.64 ERA in 28 starts. He struck out 165 in 180.2 innings, still giving up too many walks (72) but held opponents to a .207 BA. He was selected to the All-Star team and pitched a shutout inning in the game.

More importantly, in the first of the Jays’ back-to-back World Series wins, Juan won each of his two starts in the ALCS win over Oakland. In the WS, he started game three but didn’t get the decision, giving up only 2 runs in 8 innings of a game that the Jays won at the bottom of the 9th.

In 1993 we won the World Series again, and Juan was a big part of our success. He was 14-3 in 33 starts, with his highest ERA in his career to that point, 3.99. Juan still walked way too many, 110 in 221 innings. He also gave up more hits than he had in the past, giving up a .252 BA, which is still pretty good but not near as good as his first two seasons. The trouble was a drop in effectiveness against left-handed batters who hit .282 against him, while righties hit just .223. He was third in the league in strikeouts and received a Cy Young Award vote. Two other Jay pitchers finished ahead of him in the voting, Duane Ward and Pat Hentgen. Jack McDowell from the White Sox won the award that year. Unfortunately, the writing was on the wall for Guzman’s arm, as he was allowed to throw 120 pitches or more in 12 starts. Cito Gaston was never gentle with young pitchers.

Once again, he won his two starts in the ALCS, this time against the White Sox, but Dave Stewart won the Series MVP for his two wins. Stewart gave up 3 runs in 12.1 innings, and Guzman 3 runs in 12 innings. They each gave up 8 hits, Stewart walked 8, Guzman 9, Stewart struck out 8, and Guzman 9. Juan also made two starts in the World Series, getting a no-decision in a game one win and losing game 5.

Juan was lousy the next two lockout/strike-shortened seasons, with ERAs of 5.68 and 6.32 and a combined 16-25 record. He still walked more than a batter every other inning, but he also gave up more than a hit an inning.

But then, in 1996, he found the touch again, leading the league in ERA at 2.93, winning 11 and losing 8. He cut down on his walks, walking less than a batter every 3 innings. He also pitched better against lefties (.224 BA).

1997 was an injury-filled season for Juan. He made 13 starts with a 4.95 ERA and a 3-6 record. In 1998 Guzman made 22 starts for the Jays before being traded to Baltimore on July 31st for Nerio Rodriguez and Shannon Carter. We didn’t get much for him, but he didn’t do much for the Orioles before moving him to the Reds on July 31st, 1999. Guzman made 12 good starts for the Reds, then signed with the Rays as a free agent before the 2000 season. He made one crappy start for the Rays and wrecked his shoulder. That was the end of his career.

Juan had a 10-year career finishing 91-79 and a 4.08 ERA. He struck out 7.5 per 9 innings. Juan was wild, walked way too many, and led the league in wild pitches in 1993 with 26 and in 1994 with 13. He was slow and deliberate on the mound and was very poor at holding runners. Juan threw a sinking fastball, rising fastball, slider and curve. Bill Mazeroski said he had “Incredible stuff, and he’s just wild enough for hitters to have that in the back of their minds.

He also had the fabulous Jheri curl.

Guzman runs the Juan Guzman Foundation, which “works to strengthen the skills and abilities of vulnerable youth, supporting their families through primary care centers” in Latin America. However, the web page hasn’t been updated in the last few years.

Happy Birthday, Juan. I hope you have a good one.

Casey Lawrence turns 35 today.

I admire Casey a lot. He was undrafted but the Jays signed him after the 2010 draft. He made a slow climb up the minor league ladder, but, since they hadn’t invested a lot of money in him, they really didn’t limit his innings and he got a lot of work. As long as the arm holds out, that’s not a bad thing.

He was a guy I watched out for in the minors and I think we had him at the bad of our top 40 Prospect list a couple of times, or I put him on my ‘just missed out list’ a few times. But he really wasn’t a big prospect at any point.

But, if you keep at it, and hang in there long enough, good things might happen.

He made it up to the Jays in 2017 (it didn’t go well), and he was put on waivers and picked up by the Mariners. He got in a few innings with them in 2017 and 2018. He was eventually released and signed by the Twins before the 2020 season, but he never made the major league team.

The Jays signed him again before the 2021 season, and he pitched 18 innings for the Jays this past season.

Casey has pitched 96.2 innings in the majors, with a 6.80 ERA. He worked 1341.1 minor league innings to get there.

Happy Birthday, Casey. I hope it is a good one, I hope we get to see you again on a major league mound.

Josh Thole turns 36 today.

He was a Blue Jays for four seasons, getting into 170 games, with a .200/.275/.248 batting line.

You’ll likely remember that he came to us from the Mets along with R.A. Dickey (and Mike Nickeas) for Wuilmer Becerra, John Buck, Travis d‘Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard. It isn’t the trade that will be featured on Alex Anthopoulos’ Hall of Fame plaque.

Happy Birthday Josh.