Gallardo makes case for Opening Day nod

Gallardo makes case for Opening Day nod

PHOENIX -- Yovani Gallardo looked every bit the Brewers' Opening Day starter on Tuesday, but you won't get his manager to say so just yet.

Second-year Brewers skipper Ron Roenicke said he would wait as long as possible to name his pick to pitch April 6 against the Cardinals, the beginning of Milwaukee's defense of the National League Central crown. His candidates are clear -- Gallardo or Zack Greinke -- and the Cactus League calendar seems to hint that Gallardo is the pick to start his third consecutive Opening Day.

Have patience, Roenicke said.

"I explained to a couple of them yesterday, it's not to try to keep anything from them," Roenicke said. "It's just, in case things change, I don't like to make statements and then have to retract on those statements. So the longer we can go without having to say what we're doing exactly, it gives us freedom."

In other words, if one of the pitchers develops a tender arm, the team can back him off for a few days and reshuffle the rotation without creating breaking news.

But Roenicke did call the Opening Day pick "important," even if April off-days often jumble the pitching rotation.

"I think it definitely is an honor," Roenicke said.

Gallardo has garnered that honor in each of the past two seasons. Greinke, who started Opening Day for the Royals in 2010 but was on the disabled list last season, his first in Milwaukee, said he would defer to Roenicke's decision.

That decision has yet to become official, so Gallardo spoke only in broad terms Tuesday about Opening Day, an assignment that has not lost its luster.

"I don't think it ever will," Gallardo said. "It's one of those days that is very exciting. Everybody is looking forward to it, the ballclub, fans. When you're out there for the first game of the season, it's a great feeling. I won't say I won't be nervous."

That day is still more than four weeks and five Gallardo starts away. On Tuesday, he got off to a very good start, striking out four batters in two scoreless innings.

The A's only hit one ball past the infielders, first baseman Chris Carter's stinging double over third base with two outs in the second inning. Gallardo struck out A's third baseman Josh Donaldson swinging to strand the runner.

"I don't think I ever remember him struggling for a start during spring," said left fielder Ryan Braun, who was 0-for-2 with another strikeout, his third in four Cactus League at-bats.

"He always looks like he gets here ready to roll," Braun said. "It starts with being competitive. He just has such dominant stuff, that even when he's not going all-out, he has four dominant pitches."

Gallardo uses all four of those pitches in all of his spring outings, separating himself from other mound veterans, many of whom work exclusively with fastballs and changeups in their early outings and mix in breaking balls later.

Not Gallardo. He pitches from the start.

"Past springs, that's what I've done," he said. "I've gone out there basically since Day One and thrown all my pitches."

He threw a couple of curveballs, including one that Carter ripped down the left-field line for the only hit off Gallardo. Roenicke was very encouraged to see Gallardo throw two changeups, a pitch he's been working on again this spring. The Brewers hope it becomes a part of Gallardo's arsenal.

What's behind his aggressive spring philosophy? Competitiveness?

"I guess," Gallardo said. "Even in Minor League camp when I threw games out there, I threw all my pitches. Ever since my first big league camp in '07, I've done that. Sometimes I tell myself, 'OK, I'm going to go out and throw two pitches, fastball/changeup or fastball/curve.' Then I get out there and get away from it."

Whatever he's been doing, it's working. Gallardo, 26, has made at least 30 starts, topped 200 strikeouts and finished with ERAs between 3.52 and 3.84 for three straight seasons, including a career-best 2011 in which he went 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA and finished seventh in National League Cy Young Award balloting.

Gallardo shined in the postseason, outdueling the D-backs' Ian Kennedy in two NL Division Series starts before running into a tough first inning against the Cardinals in the NL Championship Series. It was not Gallardo's first appearance on the national stage -- he started Game 1 of the 2008 NLDS despite being only weeks removed from the disabled list following knee surgery -- but it was Gallardo's best.

"People were paying attention nationally, but I think he's been that pitcher for a long time," Braun said.

Will he be that pitcher on Opening Day? Roenicke will wait to make that proclamation.

"I feel good about our whole staff," Roenicke said. "We're fortunate here that when we put out a guy, we always feel like we're going to get a good outing from him."

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.