Gallardo making his way back

Gallardo making his way back

PHOENIX -- Want to get a passionate answer from a passionate manager like Brewers skipper Ned Yost? Ask him about the mental makeup of young starter Yovanni Gallardo and then be prepared to take a step back for the energetic answer.

It's hard to tell if the manager is mad that you asked him, mad you don't know more about one of his favorite players or if his fiery, but friendly, demeanor is his everyday demeanor.

The answer could be all of the above.

There is one certainty: Yost likes Gallardo a lot and it's easy to see why. The young right-hander will be at the top of the rotation one day, because of his arm and his mindset. It's enough to make the Brewers feel like they have won the pitching lottery.

"He's a young pitcher that is well advanced. He's got a veteran pitcher's mindset," Yost said. "We don't have to watch him. He knows where he is going. It's just natural. You can't teach that. You just have to have it. It's a special little ingredient that is put into a person that makes them special as a competitor. There are literally one in a million that have that."

What Gallardo lacks is experience -- pitching and otherwise. Last season, he went 9-5, with a 3.67 ERA in 20 games, 17 of them starts. This year, he showed his age, tweaking his left knee while throwing off a high school mound in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas, then driving 15 hours to the Valley of the Sun for Spring Training not long after the awkward landing. He eventually had the knee scoped to repair torn cartilage and on Tuesday, cleared the final hurdle before pitching in a Minor League intrasquad game on Friday. He is scheduled to throw two innings, or 35 pitches.

Gallardo will almost certainly begin the season on the disabled list.

"Obviously, I was very upset and knowing I had to get surgery was not good news," Gallardo said. "You just never know what can happen. I was prepared to throw and now I'm focused on getting healthy so I don't have to worry about it anymore."

Driving on an achy knee is probably not the wisest move, but in Gallardo's defense, he just turned 22 last month. Yes, he is already a husband and a father, but he is still less than four years away from wearing a backpack and eating in the cafeteria at Trimble Tech High School.

The way Gallardo sees it, the setback is not a complete loss, because the surgery is a reminder of how precious a big league career is, and how everything can change in an instant. Moreover, he acknowledges his God-given ability to throw a baseball, but he also recognizes that he is still developing as a pitcher -- and a man.

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Maybe that's why Yost gets so animated when Gallardo's makeup is questioned -- even innocently. Yost knows that Gallardo is not just another kid with a good arm. He's a potential staff ace on the mound, because he's already one off it.

"I just want to make this year better than it was last year. I'm shooting for the best," Gallardo said. "Now I know that I'm able to pitch at that level so basically I want to keep doing what I have been doing."

What he has done so far is enough to make the Brewers' faithful yearn for more. He boasts a fastball that hovers in the low-to-mid 90 mph range, a slider and curveball. Last season, he struck out 101 hitters in 110 1/3 innings with the Brewers, after starting the season at Triple-A Nashville. As a hitter, he posted a .250 batting average with two home runs and six RBIs in 40 at-bats.

"One of the biggest things I got from last year was just the experience," he said. "I know what it's like now and little things in different situations. You see how to pitch to different hitters, what to do in 3-2 counts late in the game and things like that. You learn something everyday you pitch and even by watching."

Watching the game and then playing it has been a winning formula for Gallardo since his early childhood. Born in the southern Mexican city of Michoacan, but raised in Texas since age 4, Gallardo said he learned about the game watching his father and uncles play in adult baseball leagues across North Texas. From the stands, he saw home runs before he knew exactly what they really were. As a kid, he watched a man step on a hill made up of mostly clay and sand, wind up and throw a mostly white ball (if he was lucky) as hard as he could to another guy squatting behind a white tile shaped like the kind of house you draw in kindergarten.

He loved it. It changed his life. He knew he was going to be a baseball player.

The mentioning of the names Rockwood and Samson, two recreational parks in north Fort Worth where Gallardo and his family spent their Sundays, still brings a smile to his face. He catches Mexican-American League baseball games back home when he can, but admits he is not quite accustomed to his newfound celebrity.

"It was pretty weird at first," he said. "Dad says everybody, some people we don't even know, is always asking how I'm doing. But I am thankful. I know they are proud of me. They supported me the whole way through and that's why I am here. That's who I am."

Just ask Yost.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.