Brewers notes: Gallardo returns fighting for a job

When Yovani Gallaro last pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2014, he was an anchor of the rotation.

He returns in 2018 just fighting for a job on the 25-man roster.

More Brewers coverage

The Brewers’ career leader in strikeouts with 1,226, Gallardo pitched for Milwaukee from 2007-14, recording 89 wins and a 3.69 ERA. But with one-year left on his contract, he was traded in January 2015 to Texas for three prospects, one of which is current Brewers closer Corey Knebel.

Since leaving Milwaukee, Gallardo has toiled for the Rangers (2015), Orioles (2016) and Mariners (2017), particularly struggling the past two seasons (combined 5.57 ERA and 1.548 WHIP). Now he seeks a rebirth of sorts with the Brewers. It wasn’t that long ago he was an effective pitcher, but in baseball years it seems like a lifetime ago.

“A place you spent a lot of time at, it’s always surreal when you walk back into that place,” said manager Craig Counsell, who as a player served two separate stints with both Milwaukee and Arizona. “He said it feels like been a long time but it really hasn’t been that long. … It’s certainly a big camp for him and a camp he has something to prove, so he has a lot of motivation to get going.”

One of Gallardo’s biggest problems since leaving Milwaukee has been walks. In his last season with the Brewers, in 2014, he issues 2.5 walks per nine innings. In the three years since, 3.3, 4.7 and 4.1. In his Brewers career, Gallardo allowed more than 3.6 walks per nine just once and that was in 2009 (4.6), his first full season in the bigs.

A good spring could propel Gallardo into Milwaukee’s rotation, which currently has two openings. Chase Anderson, Zach Davies and Jhoulys Chacin occupy three spots. Beyond that, it’s Gallardo and fellow right-handers Junior Guerra, Aaron Wilkerson and Brandon Woodruff and left-handers Brent Suter and Wade Miley, the latter just signed to a minor-league contract but is in major-league camp.

But it’s not just a starting role those six will vie for as any could also be placed in the bullpen. For Gallardo, though, even at age 31 it might be one last chance to prove he belongs in the majors.

“For Yo, obviously it’s evaluation time,” Counsell said.

Other notes:

Adrian Houser had an emergency appendectomy which Counsell said will put the pitcher a couple of days behind, but isn’t a major concern.

Manny Pina was once an afterthought — a player to be named later in the trade which sent Francisco Rodriguez to Detroit. After playing in 33 games for Milwaukee in 2016, Pina, who turns 31 in June, took hold of the starting job last season, playing in 110 games and batting .279 with nine home runs while throwing out 36 percent of attempted basestealers (league average — 27 percent). “Manny is on the team, I’d say that,” Counsell said. For Pina, who played in five games for Kansas City from 2011-12, this is the first time he won’t have to worry about a roster spot on opening day.

— As for the other catcher spot, Stephen Vogt might appear to have the early leg up on Jett Bandy, especially after Vogt was re-signed this offseason. But Vogt’s deal was not guaranteed. Picked up off waivers from Oakland last season, Vogt hit .254 with eight home runs in 47 games for Milwaukee. His bat, though, hasn’t been much of a question in his major-league career. He hit 18 home runs in 2015 and 14 in 2016 with the A’s and was named to the All-Star Game in both seasons. But runners swiped 23 of 27 bases against him with the Brewers last season. Vogt has been league average or worse in throw out attempted basestealers over the last three seasons. “He’s got something to prove, and I think that’s part of this camp,” Counsell said of Vogt. “The defense is important for Stephen. We’re going to see what that looks like. Steven confronts things pretty head on, open to honest conversation. He believes it’s something he needs to improve and has worked very hard at it.”