As July came to a close, the Milwaukee Brewers had serious questions whether Yovani Gallardo was going to ever regain form as the consistent pitcher he had been for most of his six seasons in the big leagues.
An injury is never a good thing, but Gallardo’s hamstring strain and the subsequent time on the disabled list completely turned his season around. Making his final start of the year Friday night in New York, Gallardo allowed just two runs in six innings for his 12th win of the season, leading the Brewers to a 4-2 victory.
Gallardo improved to 4-1 with a 2.41 ERA in eight starts since returning from the disabled list in August, giving the Brewers a piece of mind knowing one of their top pitchers is back on track. The strong finish was also important to Gallardo himself heading into the offseason.
“I think we all want to finish strong, especially if it has been a tough year,” Gallardo said. “That was the goal when I came off the DL — just be consistent every five days for the rest of the year.”
The right-hander ran into trouble in the sixth inning but was able to work out of the jam with help from his catcher to protect a one-run lead at the time. Gallardo struck out Juan Lagares with the bases loaded and one out, but bounced a pitch in the dirt to Travis d’Arnaud. Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado not only blocked the ball perfectly but he recovered quickly and made a diving tag on Daniel Murphy trying to score the tying run.
“I like the way he threw the ball,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “I know he got in trouble in the last inning. He started missing with his location in the last inning, but his curveball was really good today. He got strikeouts on it and really kept them off balance. I really thought he spotted the ball well. It was good to see him finish up that way and also really good to see him get out of that in that last inning. I really didn’t want to go get him.”
Gallardo was a subject of trade rumors for most of July, but trade whispers disappeared when he was placed on the DL on July 31. He was 8-9 with a 4.91 ERA at the time and many wondered if he had taken a step back at the age of 27.
He spent time with Brewers pitching coach Rick Kranitz trying to work on his rhythm on the mound and correcting mechanical flaws. The time off mixed with the side work paid off. He’ll finish with the highest ERA of his career at 4.18, but Gallardo’s season could have gotten away from him.
“Whether it is rhythm or whatever, he’s commanding the baseball so much better than he was early,” Roenicke said. “I know his arm felt fine and he said he didn’t have any issues with it, but somehow he got out of whack. Whether it was the ramping up too early in spring training to try to get ready for the WBC and then having to backtrack a bit and then ramp it up again for the beginning of the season.”
Gallardo’s command has been much improved of late. His curveball was working again Friday, but his best pitch might have been his cutter. Gallardo was able to backdoor the cutter for strikes against the Mets which helped him work out of trouble a few times.
“It’s just having everything working together — rhythm and release point,” Gallardo said. “Earlier in the year I was battling with my mechanics trying to figure out release point on certain pitches or going out too quick to home plate. When I would do that I would keep doing the same thing instead of making an adjustment and realizing what was going on.”
The Brewers will now head into spring training knowing the top three in their rotation is set, as Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta and Gallardo all finished their seasons strong.
“We count on Yo,” Roenicke said. “He’s not a guy that I have a question mark about. So it’s really important for him to finish well this year, and we know going into next season that we are going to get the same guy we’ve been used to all these years. (That’s) somebody you can count on to be the guy every time he’s out there you think you have a good chance to win a ballgame.
“There was (uncertainty). When he came off the DL, I don’t have those questions anymore.”
Maldy comes up big: Martin Maldonado hasn’t got to play as much as he’d probably like this season, and he certainly hasn’t performed up to his own expectations at the plate. But Friday night was a prime example as to why he’s been valuable despite having a batting average below .200.
The Mets could have tied the game in the sixth inning and possibly taken the lead without his block of Gallardo’s pitch in the dirt and subsequent diving tag.
“The ball bounced a little bit farther (than he thought),” Maldonado said. “I thought I made a great play. I also heard the third base coach saying ‘Go.’ “
Maldonado followed up his defensive gem with his fourth home run of the season in the seventh inning to give the Brewers a 4-2 lead.
“It’s been awhile,” Maldonado said. “I think it’s been three months since I’ve hit a homer. I was just trying to go up there and have a good AB. Sometimes I hit the ball good somewhere.”
Hitting just .167 in 180 at-bats prior to Friday, Maldonado has begun tinkering with his stance. He used the new stance against the Mets, and it paid off.
“He’s widened out his stance and is trying to get away from the leg kick,” Roenicke said. “Playing every fifth day or however often I get him in there to start, it makes it difficult when you have a lot of action going on. I was surprised he took it into the game today. It should give him confidence going into the winter.”
Davis exits: Brewers left fielder Khris Davis left Friday’s game in the eighth inning when his right quad and left hamstring tightened up.
Roenicke feels the tightness occurred due to dehydration, but was unsure if the rookie left fielder would be able to play Saturday. Davis made quite the impact on the game before leaving, smoking his 11th home run of the season in the first inning, a two-run shot to left putting Milwaukee up 3-0.
“He did it on a slider,” Roenicke said. “Again this guy swings hard but he doesn’t go and hack at everything. He gives himself a chance to hit mistakes and gives himself a chance to get ahead in the count.”
Segura may play: Brewers shortstop Jean Segura’s season may not be over after all. Roenicke said Segura’s injury right hamstring is back to 100 percent and he may be able to play Saturday against the Mets.
The Brewers will not allow the young shortstop to play winter ball this season, as Segura told reporters in New York he will take the winter off after a long season.
Aoki’s option to be picked up: Norichika Aoki will be in Milwaukee’s plans for next season, as owner Mark Attanasio told reporters the team will exercise the Japanese outfielder’s option for next season.
Aoki, who will turn 32 in January, is set to make $1.5 million next season. In his second season with Milwaukee, Aoki is hitting .289 with eight home runs, 37 RBI and 20 stolen bases.