After the September debacle last year and the quick exit from the playoffs, the Milwaukee Brewers knew that their two best pitchers from the 2008 campaign, Ben Sheets and CC Sabathia, would be leaving for somewhere else. Sabathia landed famously in the Bronx, and Sheets had elbow surgery and is currently rehabbing as a free agent.
With the entire offense back as constituted last year, fans across southern Wisconsin knew that the 2009 season hinged on a starting pitching staff without an established ace. Sure, Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra have talent, but both are young and Gallardo was coming off of a torn ACL.
Reliable veterans Dave Bush and Braden Looper would keep the offense in games, but they certainly wouldn't be the kind of stopper that teams need on the hill every fifth game. And Jeff Suppan...well, ask any Brewers fan about him, and you're guaranteed to get a candid response. Brewers fans were nervous.
So far this season, though, Gallardo has broken out to become the clear-cut ace of the Brewers pitching staff, and he appears determined to make Milwaukee forget about the Ben Sheets era and the three months of Sabathia-palooza.
For those who've yet to see Gallardo throw, let me run down his game. He's a control pitcher who likes to get ahead in counts with three different pitches. His fastball will top out at about 92 miles per hour, which isn't overpowering by any stretch, but Gallardo's bread is buttered by his off-speed stuff.
His curveball breaks similarly to that of Sheets, but it's thrown with less velocity and more control. What really differentiates Gallardo and Sheets is Yovani's third pitch, the changeup. Sheets toyed with that pitch during his career in Milwaukee, but it never became a reliable option for him. With Gallardo, it's a different story. He can throw it for strikes when he needs to and can notch strikeouts with it as well.
Gallardo, unlike Sheets and more like Sabathia, can hit as well. So far this season, he's got two home runs, the latest coming Wednesday against Pittsburgh's Ian Snell. The first came off of future Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson in a notoriously pitcher-friendly ballpark.
Both of his long balls were vital in the games in which he hit them. In San Francisco, his blast brought in three runs and Milwaukee won 4-2. Wednesday, his RBI was the only tally on the scoreboard for either team.
Ever since his 2006 season in the minor leagues in which he recorded 188 strikeouts in 155 innings (a Brewers minor league record), the legend of Yo had been growing. It continued in 2008 after he came back from that ACL tear mentioned above and pitched the first Brewers playoff game in 26 years. And this season, he became the first pitcher ever to hit a home run off of Randy Johnson.
I think it's safe to say that Yovani Gallardo has arrived, both on the mound and at the plate.