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02/21/10 3:20 PM EST

Guzman uses heavy heart as motivation

Right-hander haunted by deaths of brother, best friend

MESA, Ariz. -- Angel Guzman was sleeping. He was in Venezuela to visit family, and his brother Daniel nudged him awake to tell him he was going to leave with two of their friends.

The brothers always said, "I love you," when they said goodbye, and they did it again as Daniel left the hotel room where Angel was staying in Las Mercedes, located within Caracas.

That was the last time Angel saw his brother alive.

Five minutes after Daniel left, the telephone rang. One of their friends was panicked. They'd been fired at. Daniel had been shot. It was bad.

Three armed men had intercepted their SUV just outside the hotel where Angel was staying, and one of them shot toward the car. Angel ran to the scene and saw his brother halfway out of the vehicle, bleeding from the gunshots. Their best friend also was shot.

Angel held Daniel, told him to be calm. Then it was over.

On Jan. 11, Daniel Guzman died of gunshot wounds.

The 2010 season will be an important one for Guzman, whose career has been slowed by injuries to his shoulder and elbow. Last season, he compiled a 2.95 ERA in 55 relief appearances; this year, he could fill the role of right-handed setup pitcher.

He has extra motivation this year. Daniel is gone.

"He died in my arms," Guzman said. "It was terrible, terrible."

Caracas has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world, according to the Bureau of Consular Affairs. Armed robberies take place throughout the city, including areas generally presumed safe and frequented by tourists.

If he could afford it, Guzman would move his family.

"It takes time, it takes patience," he said. "They understand I'm working hard."

His mother lives in the Dominican Republic with a sister. An older brother and four other sisters are still in Caracas.

"You have to be really careful there," Guzman said. "The criminals on the streets are bad -- bad, bad, bad. You start getting older and you realize you don't want that life for your family."

If he can have success in the big leagues, if he can handle the setup duties, Guzman could end all talk about him being fragile. Earlier, Guzman had been projected as a starter, but injuries have kept him from being able to go deep in games. Entering 2009, he had appeared in 33 big league games over three seasons.

Last year, he seemed to find his niche.

"[Being a setup pitcher] is something I've been thinking a lot about," he said. "It's a good chance for me. I want to be able to perform in that role and hopefully I get the job. I like the excitement when you come out of the bullpen."

Five days before the tragedy, Angel and Daniel were running in a park so the young Cubs pitcher -- in Venezuela for the holidays -- could keep up his offseason workouts. During the run, Guzman tweaked his right knee. He didn't think it was a big deal, but after the funeral, he returned to the U.S. and discovered he needed arthroscopic surgery.

The knee injury won't hold Guzman back for long; he should be ready for Opening Day. His arm feels strong, Guzman says, and he expects to start throwing in two weeks.

He can use some positives these days. He's haunted by the sight of his brother and best friend in that SUV and is something he'll never forget. It's a subject he doesn't want to talk about.

Daniel was born the same year as Angel -- 1981 -- but Daniel was older by 10 months 9 days. His birthday was Feb. 5; Angel's is Dec. 14. Both were pitchers, too. Daniel played in the Minor Leagues in Cleveland's organization from 2003-04, and Cubs outfielder Brad Snyder was one of his teammates in Rookie ball.

Daniel's pro career ended in 2008, when he pitched for the independent league Alexandria (La.) Aces. Last year, he decided to switch gears and train other young ballplayers. He was excited about this season for his younger brother.

"We were so close," Guzman said. "Maybe that's because we were the same age and think the same way -- that's the thing that's going to be the hardest to get used to. Early in the morning, I talked to him, then in the afternoon, at night. My best friend was the other one who got killed. It's very tough."

Now, Angel has an angel watching over him.

"It's a new life for me," he said. "[Losing Daniel] is going to motivate me to work even harder now."

Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.