Yovani Gallardo hopes erratic season ends on high note
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
For a four-year period from 2009-’12, Yovani Gallardo was a model of consistency in the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization.
During that stretch, the 28-year-old right-hander posted a 60-38 record (61.2 percent winning percentage) with a 3.68 earned run average. He struck out at least 200 hitters in each of those four seasons, the only pitcher in franchise history to achieve that feat.
Then came 2013. Still reeling from the death of his mother at a young age during the offseason, Gallardo fell behind others in the Brewers’ rotation by participating in the World Baseball Classic, was arrested early in the season on a drunken driving charge and spent time on the disabled list.
When all was said and done, Gallardo had a 12-10 record and 4.18 ERA in 31 starts, with 144 strikeouts in 180 2/3 innings. The velocity on his fastball dipped, leaving some to wonder if his decline would be irreversible.
Gallardo did his best to allay those fears by starting this season with 14 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, going on to post a 2-0 record and 1.91 ERA in six March/April outings. But Gallardo slipped in May, going 1-3 with a 5.79 ERA.
Gallardo stabilized his performances in June with a 2-2 record and 3.41 ERA, though he made it harder on himself by walking 14 hitters in 28 innings. July began with a strong showing in Cincinnati (two runs in eight innings), followed by rough outings against St. Louis and Washington (15 hits, nine runs in 11 1/3 innings).
His last two outings of the month were superb, with 14 2/3 scoreless innings against the New York Mets and Tampa Bay Rays. What does Gallardo make of his roller-coaster season to this point?
“It’s been a year of ups and downs,” he said. “That’s going to happen throughout the year. You just try to limit those ‘downs’ as much as you can.”
Gallardo’s struggles on the mound often come on nights he can’t throw his curveball for strikes. Hitters sit on his fastball, making it tougher to click off clean innings. On nights his yakker is working, things usually go more smoothly.
“He seems to get out of whack at times with his delivery, and I don’t know why that is,” manager Ron Roenicke said. “He’s too good of an athlete to have issues with his delivery. Usually, a guy that has problems with it is a guy that’s not a good athlete and can’t repeat (his delivery).
“‘Kranny’ (pitching coach Rick Kranitz) and he worked on something when he started throwing well, and it’s helped his curveball. When his curveball is on and he’s throwing it for strikes, all of his pitches work well. If his delivery is right to throw his curveball, it seems to help everything.”
Continuing that recent surge by Gallardo through the final two months of the season could be critical for the Brewers, who have held at least a share of first place in the NL Central every day since April 5. Matt Garza, who was pitching his best baseball of the season, left his start Sunday in St. Louis with an oblique strain and any extended absence would weaken the rotation.
Gallardo, who is 6-5 with a 3.38 ERA overall, is well aware that he will be counted on to do his best down the stretch of what is shaping up to be a down-to-the-wire divisional race.
“We’ve been in first place all year, and we want to finish it off and take care of business,” he said. “Then we won’t have to worry about anyone else. We’ve been in a good spot the whole year. We’ve got to do everything we have to do to stay there.
“It’s definitely going to be tough. This is a tough division that we’re in. We know St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati will be there. But we like to have that challenge.
“People have counted us out before. We’ve been hearing that since spring training. Everybody has taken other teams to win the division. We all hear that, so it gives us extra motivation.”
Gallardo has personal motivation to pitch well down the stretch as well. He is at the end of a five-year, $30.1 million contract extension that includes a club option for $13 million in 2015 with a $600,000 buyout.
A strong finishing kick by Gallardo would make the Brewers’ decision to pick up his option easier. Otherwise, he could be kicked onto the free-agent market for the first time and likely headed for another team.
“Honestly, I’ve tried not to think about it,” said Gallardo, second in seniority on the club to second baseman Rickie Weeks. “If I go out there and do what I’m supposed to do, things will take care of themselves. The most important thing for me right now is going out there and winning games for the team. We have the offseason to worry about that other stuff.
“It’s been a long time. I’ve been here my whole career. I’ve really enjoyed playing here. I’d like to stay if we can work something out. There’s not much I can control about that except for what I do on the mound.
“Look at last year with all the trade talks. My name came up a lot. I can’t imagine myself being somewhere else. The organization has been great to me. But if it ever gets down to that point, it’s a business, too.”
Gallardo missed most of the 2008 wild-card season with a knee injury but was front and center in 2011 when the Brewers won the division, and he pitched two great games in the NLDS triumph over Arizona. He’d like to get one more crack at October play, whether it’s his last go-round with the club or not.
“You’re not guaranteed (postseason play),” said Gallardo, who makes his next start Wednesday night against San Francisco at Miller Park. “Every year is different. I’ve had the privilege to experience that and it was awesome. Now, we’re in the same situation this year. That’s what you play for, to experience that.
“The main goal is to win the World Series. That’s what all of the hard work is for. The last couple of months are important for us. I’ve got to go out there and battle every time I’m on the mound.
“(The contract option) is the second thing on my list. The first thing is to worry about the year and get that ring. Then, after that, figure something out.”