MILWAUKEE — Last season would have been a total loss for Yovani Gallardo if it weren’t for his final eight starts of the season. By finishing strong, the veteran right-hander could put a trying year behind him and look forward to regaining form in 2014.
Consistency is a word tossed around quite frequently when it comes to Gallardo’s career, but last year he was far from steady on and off the field.
Starting with a DUI arrest in April, Gallardo struggled to get on track and eventually landed on the disabled list in late July sporting a 4.91 ERA. The time off worked wonders as Gallardo returned and looked like himself again, going 4-1 with a 2.41 ERA in his last eight starts.
"I think for myself, just to be consistent," Gallardo said of what he wants to do in 2014. "We all know last year, I wasn’t consistent. I had a few good starts and then have rough ones, it just wasn’t there for me.
"I’m just really going to focus on that. I figure if I do that, everything else is going to come — the wins are going to come, the innings will be there. I’m just really trying to stay consistent and go out there every fifth day and give my team a chance to win."
That’s exactly what Gallardo has done for the vast majority of his seven-year career. Last season was the first time the soon to be 28-year-old finished a year with an ERA above 3.84. He’s also thrown over 3,000 pitches in each of the past four seasons, which is why there was legitimate concern if last year’s struggles had to do with him wearing down.
After an average April, Gallardo had a 5.97 ERA in six May starts. He rebounded with a 2.32 ERA in June, but posted a 7.28 mark in six July starts before injuring his hamstring and going on the disabled list.
Gallardo feels the key in regaining consistency on the mound is his curveball. It’s his primary strikeout pitch and wasn’t quite as effective in 2013. According to Fangraphs.com, hitters chased Gallardo’s curveball nearly five percent less than his career average and more are finding the zone and getting hit.
He’s sensed a regression in the pitch and wants to spend time fixing it this spring with Brewers pitching coach Rick Kranitz.
"When I first came up the first few years, I was able just to flip a curveball in there when I was behind in the count and get it back even and throw it in the dirt whenever I had to," Gallardo said. "The past few years, last year and then the year before that, I think I kind of struggled with it, just didn’t have the command that I wanted to.
"That’s one of the things we’re really going to focus on in spring training, to get the curveball going early, just to get that feel for it because it seems like that’s the last pitch you get a feel for when you’re trying to get ready."
Gallardo began working out just two to three weeks after last year ended but didn’t begin throwing again until after New Year’s Day. He started throwing every other day and eventually moving up to a daily routine. This spring will be a normal one for Gallardo, as last season’s preparation time was altered by the World Baseball Classic.
Maybe ramping up early to pitch for Mexico was a factor in his struggles, but there’s no actual proof in that. Gallardo does sense how big this year is for him, as he’s set to make $11.5 million in the final year of a five-year, $30.1 million contract signed prior to the 2010 season.
"Last year I didn’t throw the way that I wanted to, (I was a) little disappointed," Gallardo said. "But I’ve been working hard and pretty excited for this year."
Brewers fans have been quite used to Gallardo taking the ball to begin the season, as he’s one of two players in franchise history make four consecutive Opening Day starts. Gallardo’s run may end with Kyle Lohse back after a strong season and Matt Garza now added to the mix, but the right-hander will have to play a big role if Milwaukee is going to contend.
"It’s going to be tough," Gallardo said of Milwaukee’s rotation. "We’ve got a great group of guys, obviously signing Garza is going to help us a lot, it’s going to make us that much better. Just like Lohse did last year, we had the opportunity to sign him, he came in and did a great job.
"As far as Garza, just watching him pitch, he’s competitive, he’s aggressive, he attacks the hitters, he’s not afraid. He goes out there with what he has and whatever happens, happens. It’s going to be pretty exciting going into spring training knowing we have five guys pretty much set."