MILWAUKEE — Next to Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke and pitching coach Rick Kranitz, veteran right-hander Yovani Gallardo may have been the most relieved when the Brewers signed veteran free agent Kyle Lohse to a three-year, $33 million contract March 25.
Not that Gallardo was feeling the weight of the Brewers’ pitching world on his shoulders, but the addition of a veteran right-handed pitcher to what otherwise would have been a mostly unproven starting rotation certainly improved Milwaukee’s pitching outlook.
“(If he felt extra pressure), he sure didn’t act that way,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said of Gallardo. “All through spring training, he was outstanding and I think he’s very confident in what he can do. Adding Lohse, I don’t know if it relaxed ‘Yo’ somewhat, but he knows that we have another proven starter who’s got a lot of experience and I think the combination of those two is going to work out well.”
Gallardo said he didn’t feel any extra pressure coming into spring training, even when it appeared he would be the only veteran presence in a starting rotation projected to include right-handers Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers, Wily Peralta or Mark Rogers or left-hander Chris Narveson. Of those latter five, only Estrada and Narveson have more than two seasons of major-league experience and Narveson is coming back from rotator cuff surgery that sidelined him for all but two starts last season.
“We had an opportunity to watch those (young) guys pitch last year, especially in the situation we were in,” Gallardo said. “Every game was like a playoff game for us trying to get that second wild card (playoff berth) and they went out there and got the job done. So, going into spring, we were all very excited to watch those guys compete for the spots, and then, obviously, signing Lohse was a huge addition for us.”
When the Brewers open the 2013 season at 1:10 p.m. today at Miller Park against the Colorado Rockies, Gallardo will be making his fourth straight opening day start. Not because he’s the best the Brewers can put out there, but because he’s definitely the ace of the staff.
“Obviously, it says a lot,” Gallardo said. “Just to have the opportunity for the fourth time to go out there on opening day, you know, the main goal is to get the team on the right track with a win and then go from there.”
When the 27-year-old right-hander made his first opening day start four years ago, Gallardo wasn’t the most experienced pitcher on a starting rotation that included left-handers Randy Wolf and Doug Davis and right-handers Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush.
Now in his sixth major-league season, Gallardo has the experience and the track record. He’s got four straight seasons of 30 or more starts and 200 or more strikeouts. He’s led the team in victories the last three seasons, including a 16-9 mark and 3.66 earned-run average in 2012. His 25 quality starts (three or fewer earned runs in six innings pitched) were tied for second most in the National League last season and his 204 strikeouts in 204 innings were sixth-most in the NL.
“He’s obviously our No. 1 guy,” Brewers catcher Johnathan Lucroy said. “He sets the tone for the rest of the pitching staff. We love playing behind him on defense and as hitters and we’re really looking forward to continuing to play hard behind him.”
Gallardo also has become more of a team leader, Roenicke said.
“We’ve talked about his work ethic and how he leads by example, but Yo’s becoming more of a vocal leader,” Roenicke said. “Guys are going to look to him to see what kind of workload they need to do, they’re going to look to him to see how he gets along when maybe he’s struggling a little bit. There are a lot of ways Yo is going to show these young guys how to go about things.”
The biggest example Gallardo hopes to set this season is winning. He’d like nothing more than to become the fourth 20-game winner in Brewers history, joining Mike Caldwell (22 wins in 1978), Jim Colborn (20 wins in 1973) and Teddy Higuera (20 wins in 1986). Gallardo figures if he can do that, the Brewers will have a much better chance of getting back to the NL playoffs.
“For us as a staff, obviously, getting the team to the postseason is No. 1,” Gallardo said. “As a starter, we all want to try to get that number (20 wins) every year. If you’re able to do that, I think everything else will fall into place.”