Brewers ace Gallardo has been at his best
The Milwaukee Brewers are playing meaningful late-September baseball games for a variety of reasons, ranging from Ryan Braun's surge to a second straight Most Valuable Player award to the wagon train of minor league call ups that have helped the team to a 27-16 record since Aug. 1.
The backbone of the Brewers improbable run however, has been starter Yovani Gallardo.
"He found a way to be the pitcher like he knows he can be," Brewers centerfielder Carlos Gomez said. "The last two, three months he's been real successful. He's throwing the ball really good and going deep into games, seven innings almost every time, which is a little more comfortable for the bullpen.
"Now we see the ace that throws the ball like that lately, it's huge. We've got a good feeling."
Though just 26 years old, the right-handed Gallardo is the longest tenured Brewer on the staff and is arguably having the greatest season in his six-year career – even after a horrendous start that only compounded the Brewers' problems early this season.
In five April starts, he went 1-2 with a 6.08 earned run average, allowing 18 earned runs and having two starts that lasted less than four innings. But from May through August opponents hit just .222 off him with a .293 on base percentage while he posted a 3.04 ERA.
"It's always tough to get in a good rhythm right at the beginning of the season," Gallardo said. "You're obviously a little more excited or whatever reason it might be, but the last couple months I've found a release point and have kind of found that in-between rhythm of not too fast, not too slow."
The key, however, was the rediscovery of his curveball.
"He's really been good when he locates down and executes that curveball," catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. "When he's working ahead and throwing strikes he's really effective. His curveball is pretty devastating so whenever he's locating it and really effective with it he really is good."
Gallardo says he's not sure why he lost touch on that pitch early in the season, noting the margin for error on the placement of his fingers or when he releases the ball is so small, but he was happy to have fixed it early in the season.
Since, the confidence has been building.
"You're going out there and being more aggressive versus when you're struggling you're kind of just trying to figure things out instead of just going out there and pitching," he said. "I think that's where a lot of guys have problems and trouble with. You're worried about other things instead of just – it sounds simple of course – just going out there and throwing the ball wherever he calls it."
That aggressiveness helped Gallardo go undefeated (5-0) in August and holding hitters to a .205 batting average. In the second half, he is 8-2 in 12 starts with a 3.69 ERA over 78 innings.
Perhaps more telling is that since Zack Greinke was traded on July 28, Gallardo has won seven straight decisions and the Brewers have won all nine of his starts. In that stretch, he has a 2.98 ERA and is holding opponents to a .226 average and .651 OPS.
"He's got command right now," manager Ron Roenicke said. "He's always had good stuff. Early in the season he had good stuff when he was struggling but his command was off. When you put that good stuff with the command that's why we've gotten this pitcher that has been so good for that length."
There is more to it, though.
Command matters. So does release point. But Gallardo's teammates say there is another element to his game that has allowed him to carry the pitching staff – and himself - through tough times.
"You hit those patches and that just happens sometimes (and) Yo's a quality enough pitcher and a good enough pitcher to let go of those things," close John Axford said. "That's been the biggest quality for him. If it's one start, two starts, it really doesn't matter he's a different guy the next start anyway. It's always behind him. He's always out there to battle. It seems to be that as the year goes on he gets better. He gets stronger and he gets deeper into games and he really battles in those tough situations – guy's on third with one out and something like that and somehow he goes through the heart of the lineup and gets the next two guys out and gets through it."
The numbers back Axford up, too.
Opponent's hit nearly 30 points worse off him in innings 4-6 than earlier (.242 to .219) and their OPS plummets from .753 to .606.
Also, batters facing Gallardo for the third time hit .223 – down from .256 in their first plate appearance and .231 in their second.
"That's the just the battler and the competitor that he is," Axford said. "His competitive nature is there from day one and it just seems right away to get stronger throughout the season. It's a great quality to have especially with the run we made last year and we're still trying to do."
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