Brewers right hander Yovani Gallardo continued the parade of strong pitching performances from starters early in camp Tuesday. Over two innings, he allowed only 1 hit and no runs while striking out 4 and walking none. Those that saw the game on FSN Wisconsin can attest, his stuff looked very good. He mixed his pitches and had hitters on the defensive the whole time. As Tom Haudricourt reported in the Journal Sentinel Tuesday, unlike many pitchers who prefer to ease into competition in spring training by working on select pitches each outing, Gallardo prefers to jump right in and use all his stuff. Watching the game, it was hard not to be impressed with where Gallardo is at this point.
When a pitcher accomplishes as much as Gallardo has though his age 25 season, it’s only natural to wonder just how much better he can get. In 712 1/3 career innings, Gallardo has a 3.63 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. He’s struck out more than a batter an inning (9.2 per 9/IP) and walked just a hair over 1 every 3 frames (3.4 per 9/IP). After a somewhat rough first 7 outings in 2011, Gallardo hit his stride over the final 26, posting a 2.87 ERA and striking out 177 over 166 innings. He was then the Brewers most effective starter in the playoffs, throwing 2 very good starts against the Diamondbacks before struggling a bit with the Cardinals, though in fairness to him, the Cardinals were hitting just about everyone by then.
To this point in his career, Gallardo has pretty much been the definition of an inning eating #2 starter. The type of pitcher who is often brilliant, but just inconsistent enough that their down swings keep them from being labeled a true ace pitcher. Coming up through the minor leagues, Gallardo was often regarded as a potential #2 starter based on his 4 pitch arsenal but lack of the sort of blazing fastball velocity often associated with the most dominant pitchers. Gallardo has reached that level fairly early on his his career, before even hitting his late 20’s, a time that many pitchers “peak,” if they manage to survive their formative years with their health and stuff intact.
It stands to reason that if Gallardo is going to ever reach the level of an ace, it’s going to happen sometime in the not too distant future. He’s gone through the ups and downs of pitching in the big leagues for a while now, and an age 26 “breakout” season hardly seems out of line with his history. He’s dropped a full point off of his walks per 9 innings each of the last two years while sacrificing less than a strikeout per 9 total in that time. If he can take yet another step forward with his command without giving up too much swing-and-miss and perhaps building on his 2010 to 2011 ground ball gains, it’s not hard to imagine an all-time Brewer great pitching season from Gallardo in 2012. The only question left is, will he do it?