Entering the 2009 season, Brewer fans wondered if Yovani Gallardo really was as good as everyone thought, and if he could fill the shoes of CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets.
After missing most of the 2008 season to injury, Gallardo was faced with the task of not only replacing two great pitchers, but trying to be the leader of the staff despite only making 21 career starts.
One year later, all doubts about Gallardo are gone. He has proven that he can lead a rotation through a season, and 2010 could see him step into the elite-level of young pitchers in the game.
Gallardo went 13-12, with a 3.73 ERA in 30 starts for the Brewers in 2010. In only 185 2/3 innings, he struck out 204 batters while walking only 94.
At first glance, Gallardo's win-loss record doesn't appear to be anything special until you realize the lack of run support he received. In 10 of his 30 starts, the Brewers offense scored less than four runs for the staff ace. It's easy to imagine that Gallardo very easily could have made a push for 20 wins had the Brewers' bats done more for him.
Gallardo's bat also gives him an advantage over just about any other pitcher he'll face during the year. His .172 average isn't overly impressive, but he does have pop in his bat. He hit two home runs last year, including one off of future Hall of Famer, Randy Johnson. He can work the count and is never an easy out for his opponent on the mound.
While Gallardo enters the season as the clear "ace" of the staff, he won't face as much pressure as he did in 2009. Veterans Randy Wolf and Doug Davis were signed in the offseason and will give the Brewers a more complete staff that should compliment the 24-year-old much better than the likes of Braden Looper, Mike Burns, and Seth McClung.
An improved bullpen will also help the young righty in his quest for more victories this year. Gallardo should no longer feel the pressure to pitch a complete game. Trevor Hoffman, LaTroy Hawkins, Todd Coffey, and Mitch Stetter lead a bullpen that should secure most victories for any lead they are given late in games.
The Brewers' offense will be the most important factor in Gallardo's success in 2010. It is imperative for the team to produce more when he's on the mound. The team will take the field every time he pitches knowing they have a great chance to win the game.
Other than Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, no player is as important to the Brewers this year than Gallardo. The talent is there to be great, but it's now time for the talent to translate to on-the-field success.
Gallardo has been compared to for Brewers' pitcher and fellow Mexican, Teddy Higuera. While Gallardo broke into the majors at a much younger age, he still hasn't had the dominant, breakout season like Higuera.
From 1985 to 1988, Higuera won 69 games with an ERA never getting above 3.90 and pitching in at least 212 innings every year. He finished second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 1985, and the top six in the AL Cy Young voting twice.
To follow in his countryman's footsteps, Gallardo's health will be paramount. The Brewers held him back toward the end of the season, not wanting to over-pitch him with the team out of playoff contention.
There should be no such limitations in 2010, and the sky really is the limit. Yovani Gallardo has shown he can put his pitching talents up against anyone in the league and more than hold his own. It's now time for all his numbers to show his true talent.
Gallardo won't surprise any of his opponents this year, but he should become more well-known among all baseball fans.
Expect the young hurler to keep his ERA under four, win 17-plus games, and strike out at least another 200 hitters. By season's end, his name will be mentioned with Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum, and others as a possible Cy Young winner.
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