Gallardo named Opening Day starter for fifth time
Longevity gives right-hander the edge over Lohse and Garza
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Yovani Gallardo has the history. Kyle Lohse is coming off the best season. Matt Garza got the big money.
For weeks now, the question has been which right-hander would get the ball for the Brewers' March 31 season opener against the Braves at Miller Park.
"Yovani is going to pitch Opening Day," manager Ron Roenicke revealed Thursday morning. "I think with him being on this club for a long time, with having the success that he's had, we feel like he should be the guy that starts it. And Kyle was fine with it, Garza was fine with it."
Roenicke added of Gallardo: "He is 'our' guy. There's a difference."
Gallardo, the Brewers' second-round Draft pick in 2004, has pitched parts of the past seven seasons in Milwaukee and is by far the team's longest-tenured arm. He would become the first pitcher in franchise history to start five consecutive season openers.
Only Ben Sheets has started more Opening Days overall. He pitched six, though not consecutively.
"To have the opportunity to do it five years in a row is pretty amazing," Gallardo said. "It shows you what the organization thinks of you to allow you to do that for five years. You can't take it for granted. You just have to go out there and take care of business."
Did Gallardo report to camp thinking he might get the nod again?
"I didn't even think about it, to be honest," he said. "Coming into spring, we all know I didn't have the year I wanted to have last year. … I just showed up here in Spring Training ready to go. This is going to be a big year for me. I have something to prove."
The 2013 season was Gallardo's most trying, personally and professionally. His mother died the previous offseason after a battle with cancer. He was bothered during Spring Training by a groin injury that forced him to alter his mechanics in order to pitch for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. Those changes contributed to his poor start. In the early-morning hours of April 16, he was arrested for drunk driving.
When the season was over, Gallardo had led the Brewers in victories for the fourth straight season and strikeouts for the fifth straight season, but his overall numbers represented a decline. He was 12-10 with a 4.18 ERA in 31 starts, falling short of 200 innings for the first time in three years and short of 200 strikeouts for the first time in five years.
"I need to be consistent," Gallardo said. "Last year, obviously, I didn't have the year that I wanted to have. I wasn't very consistent with my starts. I'd go out, have one good one, have three or four [bad starts] in a row, then come back and have another good one. I just want to give my team a chance to win my 33 or 34 starts. I think the years before that, I was able to do that and help the team out."
But make no mistake: Opening Day is different.
"The only difference is it gets the season underway," he said. "Fans are excited. Players are excited. There's a little extra emotion going into it. The hardest part is just calming yourself down. You can't get too excited up on the mound.
"Having the opportunity to do it the last few years definitely helps. You just have to go out there and perform. The first inning, the first few pitches … there's a lot of extra adrenaline but you have to calm down, go out there and continue to make pitches."
Roenicke believes Gallardo will benefit from a more normal Spring Training. He has allowed only one run in his first three spring starts, spanning eight innings, and will pitch again Sunday against the D-backs at Maryvale Baseball Park.
At the moment, Lohse is lined up to start the second game of the season. The rest of the rotation is to be determined, Roenicke said.
He was asked whether the Opening Day nod was meant to boost Gallardo's confidence.
"I know they take it as an honor, and they should," Roenicke said. "But it's not meant to do that; what it's meant to do is, 'Yo' deserves to start Opening Day, and he's going to start."
Gallardo is 0-2 with a 5.82 ERA in his previous Opening Day starts, and has not pitched past the fifth inning in either of the last two. His first two Opening Days were Gallardo's best; he lost a duel to Ubaldo Jimenez of the Rockies in 2010, and held the Reds to two runs in six innings in 2011, only to see a win slip away from closer John Axford.