Gallardo is Brewers' next ace
Youngster must step up after loss of stars Sabathia, Sheets
PHOENIX -- The Brewers' free-agent losses of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets had nothing to do with Yovani Gallardo's decision to skip the World Baseball Classic, the Mexican right-hander said Friday.
He's his own man. Even if every other question he's had to answer this spring includes the names Sabathia and Sheets."If those guys weren't gone, it would have been the same situation for me," Gallardo said. "I backed out because of my health. I want to stay here and pitch my first couple of outings to make sure everything is right. I want to have a full, healthy season for the Brewers." They need him. Gallardo missed most of last season with two separate knee injuries that required surgery -- first torn cartilage in his left knee and then a more serious torn ACL in his right. The second injury occurred May 1 at Wrigley Field, and most expected it to end Gallardo's season. Instead, Gallardo worked his way back into shape to make one start in the final week of the regular season. He pitched four good innings against the Pirates, enough for acting manager Dale Sveum to make the surprisingly bold decision to start Gallardo in Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Phillies (Sabathia wasn't available because the pitched the regular-season finale three days earlier). Gallardo took the mound for Milwaukee's first postseason appearance since Game 7 of the 1982 World Series. "That was a huge confidence boost," Gallardo said. "That was a huge thing for me. It was the first time I was in the playoffs, and now I have a taste of it. That's the main goal now." Reaching that goal again will require Gallardo, who just turned 23 last week, and 26-year-old lefty Manny Parra to emerge as top-of-the-rotation talents. Not that they are going to immediately replace Sabathia and Sheets, who combined for 203 career wins, 475 starts and seven All-Star Games. Gallardo and Parra have 19 wins and 52 starts between them. Gallardo's injuries mean he is the less experienced member of the duo. Still, he's 9-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 24 career appearances, 21 of them starts, and has struck out 121 batters with only 45 walks in 134 1/3 innings. He throws three above-average pitches: a mid-90s fastball, a well-located curve and an improving changeup. But the way Brewers catcher Jason Kendall sees it, the numbers don't tell the story. "Nobody is going to replace [Sabathia and Sheets]. That's important for everybody to remember," said Kendall. "But this kid is going to be really, really good. ... He could be a 15-20 game winner for a long time in this league. "In fact, I don't see how he can't win a Cy [Young Award]. He's that good. There's a ton of potential there." Kendall is one of the earliest to arrive on game day, but Gallardo always beat him during the summer months last season. Gallardo went through a battery of treatment every day to restore the strength of his knee, including pool workouts, weight work and stretching. Kendall is not easily impressed, but Gallardo managed to do it. "Most guys would have just packed it in for the year after that injury," Kendall said. "I was proud of him, and I told him that he should be proud of himself, too. It was pretty amazing." It paid off in that Game 1 start against the Phillies. Gallardo worked four innings and surrendered three hits and three unearned runs in a poor defensive game for the Brewers. He was lifted from the game at 75 pitches and ended up taking the loss. But it was another positive step forward. "I was confident with the stuff that I had," Gallardo said. "The pitch count got to me and cut my day a little short, but I was happy that I got the opportunity to go out there at all. The big thing for me was just to treat it like any other game." Does he get excited? "I was excited, actually, for the playoff game," Gallardo said. "But it's one of those things that you can't let it get to you. You get away from your game plan when you do that. "I've always been like that. There have been a couple of guys who came up to me after the first game against Pittsburgh -- Kendall was one -- who said, 'You should be excited and jumping around.' I just gave them a shrug and told them I'm not like that. I'm not that kind of guy." Gallardo was just as excited about the chance to pitch for Mexico in the Classic. Instead, because of concerns about his knees, he'll be following those games on the Internet. "My focus right now is here [in Brewers camp]," Gallardo said. "That's the most important thing."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.