ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It was not the kind of news Alex Guerrero wanted to make.
His first season of American professional baseball was off to a great start. The 27-year-old Cuban made his major league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers and was tearing it up with Albuquerque Isotopes when the parent club sent him down to polish his defensive skills.
Then came May 20.
Guerrero was involved in an ugly, highly publicized dugout fight with then-Isotopes teammate Miguel Olivo during a game in Salt Lake City. During the fray Olivo bit off a portion of Guerrero’s left ear.
Olivo was released two days later but a bizarre summer was just getting started for Guerrero. After the altercation he was hospitalized in Salt Lake City and later Los Angeles, where he had part of his ear surgically reattached.
Guerrero then spent a month making daily visits to UCLA Medical Center and spent time in a hyperbaric chamber designed to promote healing.
More than two months passed before Guerrero finally rejoined the Isotopes on July 26. His first series in Albuquerque since the dugout incident began Saturday, and the hot-hitting Cuban spoke with reporters before Sunday’s 8-5 loss to visiting Tacoma.
He declined to discuss his altercation with Olivo, but when asked about the ensuing rehab experience Guerrero shook his head.
“It’s not fun,” he said through an interpreter. “There’s not much else to focus on but recovery and trying to get 100-percent healthy. Thank God it’s over.”
Now Guerrero is working to regain the form that prompted the Dodgers to sign him to a $28 million contract during the offseason. That too has been a slow process.
Once his ear was sufficiently healed, Guerrero played five games with the Dodgers’ Arizona Rookie League team. He then played seven rehab games with Single-A Rancho Cucamonga before rejoining the ‘Topes on July 26.
Prior to the injury Guerrero was hitting .376 with 10 homers and 29 RBIs in 33 games. Since returning to the Isotopes he is 6 for 31 (.194) without a homer or an RBI.
“It set me back in every way,” Guerrero said of his time on the disabled list. “For an athlete to have two months out of competition, it’s basically like starting from zero.”
Guerrero went 1 for 4 with a double Sunday as the Isotopes absorbed their fifth straight loss. In Guerrero’s case, at least, there were positive signs as he hit the ball sharply twice.
“We knew it would be a little while until he got his rhythm back,” Isotopes manager Damon Berryhill said. “But Alex is a quality hitter. Once he sees enough pitches he’ll start smoking balls. He smoked a couple tonight.”
Guerrero also continues to refine his defense, albeit at several positions. He played second base Sunday but also has played shortstop and outfield for a ‘Topes team that currently has just two true outfielders on its active roster.
“If it gets me to the big leagues faster, I’ll play outfield,” Guerrero said with a smile.
A return to the Dodgers would at least provide a good-news ending to Guerrero’s strange season. But for the moment he’s happy to be back with the Isotopes, away from hospitals and hyperbaric chambers.
“When I got here I realized this team feels like family,” Guerrero said. “Physically I feel good, baseball-wise I feel good, I’m really happy to be back.”