By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Apr 07, 2008 at 5:16 AM Photography: Allen Fredrickson

Ben Sheets' complete game effort in a 6-0 victory over San Francisco Sunday capped off an impressive opening week for the Brewers' starting rotation.

Sheets opened the season with 6.1 shutout innings against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, striking out seven Chicago batters while walking just two. Against the Giants Sunday, he scattered five hits and walked none.

Milwaukee starters are 4-1 this season with an earned run average of 2.87. They've allowed 30 hits while striking out 34 and walking 13.

"I'm very, very pleased with our pitching staff," Yost said. "I'm pleased with the way that they're out there executing their pitches."

Yost and the pitchers are also quick to credit veteran catcher Jason Kendall for the staff's early success. Signed as a free agent last winter, Kendall came with a reputation for working well with pitchers.

"This is what we envisioned when we got him," Yost said. "He's a guy that can be a leader behind the plate and work with these pitchers and get them through the game.

"It's only six games into the season -- he's done it in spring training, too -- but this was a huge pickup for us."

Sheets says the relationship is working well, especially because Kendall's game-calling can take some of the pressure off him. He shook off a pitch just three times in the opener and thinks he only shook off two on Sunday.

"He does the thinking for me," Sheets says. "If I can keep my head out of it, I think I'm better."

They're not only pitching well, they're pitching deep into ballgames, as well. The bullpen has worked just 16.1 innings this season.

The only hiccup from the starting rotation so far came from Dave Bush in a 6-3 loss at Chicago on April 3. Bush, who struggled throughout spring training, had issues with his command and is the only starter to have a loss this season.

It's been awhile: Sheets last shutout came during his rookie season on May 29, 2001 at St. Louis.

"I knew it had been awhile," Sheets said. "I had some complete games, but you don't forget something like that."

Sheets doesn't remember who caught him that day.

"I thought it was going to be easy," Sheets said. "I remember it was my 15th or 16th start and I thought ‘I'll get 15, 20, 100 of these' ... here it is, seven years later."

The statistic is somewhat surprising considering some of the outings Sheets has had since then, including an 18-strikeout effort against Atlanta in 2006 and his complete game against the Dodgers last year on Opening Day.

Yost had no idea that so much time had passed.

"I didn't know that," Yost said. "It's very hard for me to believe that. He was just dynamite today."

Sheets was dominant from the first pitch on Sunday, was a 92-mile per hour fastball. He struck out the first three Giants batters on 11 pitches to open the game.

"That was Ben Sheets right there at his finest," Yost said. "Right from the beginning he was attacking down with his fastball down in the strike zone. He had a fastball in the mid-90s and a biting curveball that he was throwing for strikes.

"When he's got them both going, he's tough to face."

Still going: It's early, but it's obvious that Gabe Kapler can still play.

Kapler spent last season managing in the Boston farm system. He came to the Brewers spring camp as a non-roster invitee. General Manager Doug Melvin knew Kapler from their days with the Texas Rangers and thought he might be able to provide some outfield depth.

In the absence of Mike Cameron, who is serving a 25-game suspension, Kapler has stepped up. He's made two starts -- both against left-handers -- and is hitting .438. He hit his first-ever pinch-hit home run on Saturday in a 5-4 victory over the Giants and followed that with his second homer of the season in the series finale.

"When he came to spring training, you could see real quick this guy still had some game left," Yost said. "He's played like this from the first day of spring training until now.

"He's a very solid player, he's a very fundamental player and he's a winning-type player. He plays the game with a sense of urgency and intensity."

Kapler isn't surprised by his ability to hit the ball (7-for 16 with six RBI), saying he has "very high expectations" for himself. He also doesn't dwell on his decision to leave the game last year.

"I don't feel like life has any rules," Kapler said. "I don't care to follow the path if I don't feel like it and as far as not ... playing straight through; I wanted to try something else."

The waiting game: First baseman Prince Fielder has posted some pretty solid numbers so far. He's batting .364with five RBI. Last year's National League home run king hasn't gone deep yet, but Yost says it's a sign of how the young slugger continues to develop.

"Prince is evolving," Yost said. "We saw Prince last year as a power hitter but I think in the years coming we're going to see Prince as an RBI machine and a power hitter.

"He's a smart kid. He's smart enough to take what's given to him."

While he hasn't homered, he has hit safely in each of the team's first six games. 

Fielder hit just one homer during spring training. His last regular-season home run came on September 25, when he hit two against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Gallardo works his way back: RHP Yovani Gallardo made his first rehabilitation start with Triple-A Nashville last week and could be back with the Brewers by the end of April.

Gallardo, who had surgery on his left knee during spring training, worked four innings in Nashville's 7-5 loss to New Orleans on Friday. He threw 75 pitches, allowing three runs on six hits with a walk and five strikeouts.

The 22-year-old will probably make two more stats with the Sounds and could re-join the big club during a three-game series in Cincinnati next week, barring any setbacks.

"If he's getting his brains lit up, he's going to stay there, but I don't see that happening with his stuff," Yost said. "The main criteria for me is that he's able to throw 100 pitches and how he feels is a big part of it, but since the time he started throwing it, he hasn't felt anything (with the injury). His knee is nothing. It's all arm and endurance and mechanics."

Gallardo went 9-5 as a rookie last season with a 3.67 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 110 1/3 innings pitched. He tore the lateral meniscus in his knee early in camp and underwent arthroscopic surgery on Feb. 19.

Quick hits: Three different relievers have record the Brewers' three saves this season. ... Sheets needs just 18 strikeouts to become the franchise's all-time leader. Teddy Higuera is currently first with 1,081. ... The 119,800 fans that attended the three-game series against the Giants set a franchise record for largest crowd for a season-opening series.

On the farm: Double-A Huntsville opened the season 3-0 ... Chuck Caufield got off to a fast start at Single-A Brevard County. The outfielder hit .538 (7-for-13) with three doubles and six RBI in the Manatees' first three games. ... Triple-A Nashville was swept by New Orleans in the Sounds' season-opening series.

This week: The Brewers take Monday off before opening a three-game set against Cincinnati Tuesday night at Miller Park. The series opener will be the Brewers' first night game of the season. On Friday, the team heads to New York for a nine-game road trip that includes stops in St. Louis and Cincinnati.

He said it: "Maybe he ate his Wheaties." -- Yost, on Bill Hall's two home runs on Opening Day.

Attendance: Total (through three home games) -- 119,800; Average -- 39,933; On pace for -- 3,234,573. Sellouts -- 2.

Sausage Standings: Polish, Italian, Chorizo -- 1; Bratwurst, Hot Dog -- 0.

Under the roof: Games played with roof / panels open -- 0; roof closed / panels open -- 0; roof open / panels closed -- 0; roof / panels closed -- 3. Total home games -- 3.