With CC and Sheets gone, Brewers look for Gallardo to assume ace role
It's the same question that Brewers fans everywhere have been asking about
For all of Gallardo's gifts, his promotion was not due to his potential, and certainly not to his statistics -- with 24 career appearances he still has almost as many whiskers on his chin as games under his belt. Rather, his elevation is due to the sobering reality that Milwaukee's moment as a big-market team --acquiring one of the game's best pitchers before the trade deadline and then offering him a nine-figure contract in the offseason -- was as brief as it was productive.
Having lost Sabathia to the Yankees after New York trumped their reported $100 million offer by more than $60 million, and Sheets, who remains a free agent but is currently sidelined with an injury, the Brewers were forced to refurbish their rotation. They signed
What Gallardo lacks in experience he makes up for in talent. Teammate
"He has all the tools you're looking for," Brewers pitching coach
Gallardo also possesses an extremely impressive work ethic. After enduring a left knee injury before last season started, he suffered a torn ACL in his right knee on May 1, in just his third start of the season. (One heroic side note: Gallardo, who sustained the injury in the top of the fifth inning, actually stayed in the game to record five more outs.) With the devastating injury, Gallardo was declared out for the year. Instead, he rehabbed furiously, returning in time to make a critical start against the Pirates on the last weekend of the season and then opening the Division Series against the Phillies a few days later.
"I'm usually at the ballpark pretty early, but he beat me every day," says Kendall. "He was here busting his [butt]. A lot of guys would have just shut it down."
Gallardo, who pronounced himself "in perfect health right now" after a rigorous offseason routine that included workouts three times a week to add lower-body strength, didn't just spend his free time last year fixing his body. He studied Sabathia and Sheets for insight into their success, and wasn't afraid to ask the veterans for their counsel.
"The most important thing I learned was that both of them are very aggressive," he says. "They pound the strike zone and go right after hitters. Sheets was basically fastball and curveball and CC fastball and slider, two pitches, but they mixed them very well."
Gallardo throws four pitches, with a mid-90s fastball and a developing curveball being his two best (complemented by a slider and a changeup). Still, his various gifts have been like a hyped movie that opens at a film festival: great reviews, but few people have actually seen it for themselves.
"His fastball gets to the circle [in front of the plate] and just --
This spring Gallardo is drawing rave reviews and heady comparisons in equal measure. Castro likens him to another Mexican native and former Brewers star,
Macha managed the Oakland A's when they were fronted by the vintage staff of All-Stars
Macha will have to figure out a lot about his likely new ace. After being hired during the offseason Macha consulted with Kendall to get a sense of what his new pitchers were like, on and off the mound. "He said, '[Gallardo] doesn't know how good he can be.' "
Neither, for the moment, does anyone else. Gallardo pitched 113 innings in his debut season of 2007, going 9-5 with a 3.67 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 110 innings. But he only pitched a total of 46.2 innings in '08 between the minors and the majors, and when Macha says he envisions a 15 percent increase in Gallardo's innings this year, he likely means from his professional high of 188 two years ago. That would put Gallardo at 216 2/3 IP this year, a massive increase from a year ago; although Macha is hoping to build in extra rest once the season starts.
For now, Macha still hasn't had a chance to watch Gallardo much in person (entering Thursday's scheduled start, he's pitched just 8.2 innings this spring), and is likely to be learning as much from those morning bullpen sessions as anything that happens on a mound before the team heads north.
So what do we have here? The manager, just like everybody else, is about to find out.