Coming off what was the worst season of his career both on and off the field, Milwaukee's Yovani Gallardo was able to work out of trouble when he had to Monday.
Benny Sieu/Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
MILWAUKEE — Yovani Gallardo has become used to taking the ball on Opening Day, but it was a bit different this time around.
Never before had the veteran right-hander needed to bounce back from a trying season.
Gallardo made Monday the first step in proving 2013 was a blip on the radar, as he worked six scoreless innings to earn his first ever Opening Day win in Milwaukee’s 2-0 victory of the Atlanta Braves at Miller Park.
The Brewers hadn’t shut out a team on Opening Day since beating Baltimore, 12-0, in 1988.
"I’m a lot more excited than it seems like," Gallardo said. "I didn’t want to have a any extra pressure knowing this is my fifth time and I (didn’t have a) win to show for it. Winning the ballgame is key. You always want to start off the year on the right path.
"I think I was able to throw the ball well. It’s just a matter of being consistent and taking it into the next start."
Gallardo entered Monday’s opener with a 0-2 record and a 5.82 ERA in his four previous starts on Opening Day. Manager Ron Roenicke picked him over Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza because of what the right-hander has done for the Brewers over his seven years with the team.
Coming off what was the worst season of his career both on and off the field, Gallardo was able to work out of trouble when he had to Monday.
The Braves had at least one runner in scoring position in four of six innings against Gallardo, but he was able to make the necessary pitches to avoid damage.
"His command was good. His breaking ball was good," Roenicke said. "His slider was good. He got in a little bit, I should say counts, that he was up in the zone but he got right back down with a really good pitch. I thought later on, he probably got tired some and left some pitches up but then he’d turn around and make a great pitch."
Gallardo didn’t seem to have command of his fastball early, but that’s to be expected with the jitters that come with Opening Day. He eventually settled in and cruised through the third and fourth innings, enabling him to get through six at 92 pitches.
He moved into second place on the Brewers’ all-time strikeout list Monday, fanning four to pass Teddy Higuera.
"Just excited," Gallardo said of his lack of early command. "I had some extra adrenaline being out there Opening Day. It’s always getting out of that first inning. You always tend to calm yourself down and go about your business with the game plan that we had set.
"I was just really focused on just moving the ball around and keeping it down in the zone. Those guys have a good lineup. You really have to be careful and make pitches."
Early change: It was a surprise to almost everyone in the ballpark Monday when Francisco Rodriguez was the one warming up for the ninth inning instead of expected closer Jim Henderson.
Rodriguez ended up working a scoreless ninth inning for his 305th career save, but nobody knew why it wasn’t Henderson out there until after the game.
Roenicke wants to see Henderson, who had a 6.00 ERA in nine appearances this spring, pitching better before giving him the ball in the ninth inning.
"We had a conversation about Henderson yesterday and until we feel like he’s throwing the way he can and was last year, we’re going to put him in a role that we can give him a couple outings to get his stuff back and his confidence going," Roenicke said. "That’s just a decision we had to make. I talked to him about it, and I talked to Frankie today about closing. We feel good about it."
There were no signs a change in closer was going to happen until Rodriguez began loosening while the Brewers hit in the bottom of the eighth. Even Aramis Ramirez said he didn’t know Henderson wasn’t closing until Rodriguez trotted in.
Roenicke says he plans to keep Rodriguez as the team’s closer at least for the foreseeable future.
"I definitely was a little surprised, especially coming out of camp Henderson was the guy who was supposed to be throwing the ninth inning," Rodriguez said. "At the same time, it is a challenge I was looking for. Hopefully I can go out there and get the job done every time the manager asks for me."
Henderson allowed six earned runs in his first five spring-training innings but was not scored upon in his final four innings. His velocity was down, an obvious concern with a pitcher that relies heavily on blowing his fastball by hitters.
"It’s velocity but it’s command and it’s life on the pitch," Roenicke said. "When you see hitters with him, he does have deception and when he’s going at people the right way, they’re always late on the ball, not getting good swings.
"Right now, and not so much his last outing, which was better, but the outing before, guys were out in front of him and when he’s throwing well, guys aren’t out in front of his fastball."
Henderson seemed to take the switch in stride.
"I’m a reasonable teammate and player," Henderson said. "I realize I didn’t have a great spring. Whatever is best for the team.
"I’ll go out there and compete when the phone rings. K-Rod did fantastic. That changeup was nasty tonight. If he keeps pitching like that, that’s fantastic for the team."
Rodriguez reported to spring training late due to the turmoil in his native Venezuela and then was set back after injuring his foot stepping on a cactus on March 11. There are still spines stuck in Rodriguez’s foot, as he said he pulled four of them out Sunday.
The pain has subsided in his foot, but the veteran closer isn’t where he needs to be because of his inability to work out and build up strength while trying to let his injury heal.
"I feel good now," Rodriguez, who moved into sole possession of 21st place on the all-time saves list with his 305th career save Monday, said. "The last week or so I’ve been feeling pretty good. I still have find a way to catch up and get my body a little stronger. My arm feels great, I’m healthy now."