MILWAUKEE — Yovani Gallardo felt the best he has all season, while Ron Roenicke thought the right-hander was as sharp in the early innings Friday night as he’s been in some time.
But things can change in a heartbeat, as they did for Gallardo in the fourth inning in Milwaukee’s 5-3 loss to the New York Yankees in the series opener at Miller Park. Gallardo allowed four runs on four hits, including a three-run home run to Yangervis Solarte, to put the Brewers in an early hole.
Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka took it from there, as he limited the Brewers to just two runs in 6 1/3 innings.
"I felt good," Gallardo said. "I felt like the ball was coming out nice and easy and just locating it. Early on, I was moving the ball around the zone — in, away and then up for strikeouts. That’s what’s frustrating about this game. You want to stay away from that big inning. Today I made that mistake. I left it up in the zone and he hit it out. That’s what big-league hitters are going to do in that situation."
Gallardo retired nine of the first 11 hitters he faced Friday night, striking out five through three innings. His fastball was live and his slider and curveball seemed to be on. All of a sudden he lost command of his offspeed pitches which led to the big inning.
Carlos Beltran drew a walk to start the fourth, while Brian McCann singled to center with one out. Solarte, who signed as a minor-league free agent with the Yankees this winter after spending eight seasons in the minor leagues with the Twins and Rangers, then connected for his second career home run.
Brett Gardner followed with a single and came around to score on a double by Brian Roberts to make it 4-0 Yankees.
Gallardo settled down and retired five of the next six batters he faced before leaving the game with two outs in the sixth, but by then it was too late.
"I really thought Yo threw the ball well," Roenicke said. "This was as good stuff as I’ve seen from him for a while. Fastball was outstanding. It’s just too bad the results weren’t better. But he really threw the ball well. He just gave up the four runs in one inning and there’s not much you can do. He did make some mistakes the inning they got four runs. But his stuff was really good."
The Brewers had a chance to jump on Tanaka for an early run in the first inning but couldn’t plate Carlos Gomez from third after he got there with one out. Jonathan Lucroy popped out to Derek Jeter at shortstop and Aramis Ramirez struck out to end the inning.
Back-to-back doubles by Gomez and Scooter Gennett got Milwaukee on the board against Tanaka in the sixth, while Lucroy drove in a run with a single to center later in the inning.
Tanaka improved to 5-0 in the big leagues with the win and hasn’t lost in his last 41 regular-season starts, including his time spent in the Nippon Professional Baseball League in Japan. The right-hander is 33-0 since his last loss on Aug. 19, 2012.
"He’s pretty impressive," Lucroy said of Tanaka. "It’s really hard to tell the difference in his fastball and split finger. He threw it with the same arm speed and same rotation and it just dove when it got to you. You just have to see him up in the zone, but he was pretty good tonight."
Tanaka has proven to be a legitimate top of the rotation pitcher in his short time with the Yankees, but the Brewers are struggling to score runs no matter who they face. Before scoring two runs in the sixth inning Friday, Milwaukee had plated just two earned runs in its last 25 innings.
The way the bats are going, a four-run inning like the one the Yankees had Friday seems to put the game away.
"We have to pick it up," Ramirez said. "(The pitchers) are giving us a chance to win, so we have to score some more for them."
After finishing April at 20-8 and riding high, the Brewers have lost three straight games for the first time this season to fall to 2-6 in May. The Brewers still have a four-game lead in the National League Central, but they aren’t playing anywhere near as well as they did just a few weeks ago.
"It’s been tough," Gallardo said. "It’s been a little rough the past few games. We just have to stay motivated. We can’t give up. The guys are going to turn around and hit.
"We just have to stay positive. Everyone in here is working hard to get back in that rhythm."