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Crew’s pitch rests on Gallardo’s arm

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Michael Hunt
March 12, 2009

One of the more agreeable pieces of news to emerge from the Milwaukee Brewers’ spring training occurred more than two weeks ago, and still it holds up.


Let’s see, how did Yovani Gallardo put it?


“No Classic for me,” he said back on Feb. 21.


Your reaction probably is easier to recall. It probably was something along the lines of, “Whew.”


Not to take a Chinese-made Louisville Slugger upside the World Baseball Classic’s head, but its passionate followers around here almost certainly equal the number of people windsurfing off Bradford Beach today. It’s not exactly classic in the sense that the best players are otherwise occupied, and it’s hardly representative of the planet unless the 16 entrants are plotting to take over the world after batting practice.


And the last thing anyone in this little corner of it needed was for Gallardo to ease into his two surgically repaired knees miles and miles away from his nearest Brewers health-care provider. The thought was just too frightening, you know, kind of like Jeff Suppan at the top of the rotation.


Look, any player can get hurt at any time. Ryan Braun could just as easily pull something up in Toronto as he could down in Phoenix, which is another problem with the WBC. If they insist on playing the thing, there’s no good time to do it. Spring training is merely the least inconvenient. And there are better things for Gallardo to be taking a chance on in early March other than trying to locate a 95-mph heater against the Netherlands.


Since they cannot possibly replicate what CC Sabathia did for them in this lifetime or any other, the Brewers are limited in what they can do to approach last season’s once-in-a-generation achievement. Somebody is going to have to take the baseball every fifth day with a sporting chance to win. And if you had to declare that horse right now, it would be Gallardo.


Pre-CC, Gallardo certainly looked the part. Then came the horrible spill last April at Wrigley Field. Somehow he got up, but not for long. But at least one good thing—make that one great thing—came from Gallardo’s second knee injury. The Brewers were forced to go get Sabathia, and without him we’re talking about a 27-year playoff layoff as a prelude to opening day.


Eventually, the top of the rotation should belong to Gallardo, even as Ken Macha was smart for temporarily deferring pressure with Suppan. But face it, Suppan looked finished in September. Maybe he’s not. We’ll see. Manny Parra has a lot of talent, but he hit the wall after the all-star break. Dave Bush’s post-Nashville renaissance coincided with Parra’s slide. Braden Looper is hurt.


So there’s the Brewers’ only chance to make another wild-card run, a rotation that scares you as much as it inspires confidence to keep the score within reach of a reputable offense. Scarier yet, it is a rotation that might only go as far as a 23-year-old with 21 big-league starts will take it.


That’s a lot to put on Gallardo, but it’s also the burden of expectations for one of the best arms to come through that system in a long time. Gallardo has the chance to be a special pitcher if the Brewers are able to properly manage his gradual ascent to staff ace. Keeping him healthy was the first step, and you feel a whole lot better that the restart to his promising career is being handled as conventionally as possible.



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