There are a few different definitions of “ace” out there, but no matter what you use as your criteria, there’s one general guideline — aces are supposed to stop losing streaks. With the Brewers coming into Saturday on a seven-game skid and needing a win, they needed a strong start from Yovani Gallardo.
The only problem, of course, was that over his past five starts, Gallardo hadn’t been pitching like the Yo we were used to. After two solid starts to begin the year — including a two-hit complete game shutout of Atlanta — Gallardo came into the game having given up 26 runs in 26.1 innings. A lot of digital ink was used trying to figure out what was wrong with him, but sometimes the most simple answer is the correct one…maybe he was just getting unlucky.
During that rough patch of five starts, opponents were hitting .389 against Gallardo, thanks mostly to a .455 average on balls in play. He was by no means sharp — he did have 12 walks in those 26.1 IP — but the defense wasn’t helping him get out of jams, either.
That was one of the biggest changes when it came to his start against the Cardinals. Carlos Gomez crashed into the outfield wall in left-center to make a catch early in the game. Mark Kotsay was able to make a running, leaping grab in the right field corner to preserve the no-hitter after Gallardo had walked two straight with two outs in a rough 5th inning. Gallardo even helped himself, making a great stab on a ball up the middle to spark a double play.
While stuff was never really a problem for Gallardo over his past five starts, it’s worth noting there was a subtle change in some of his pitches on Saturday. In his previous start May 2 in Atlanta, Gallardo’s curveball averaged 80.29 mph with about 7.9 inches of break (measured from where a perfectly straight pitch would have been). On Saturday, his average velocity was about the same — 81.78 mph — but the secret may be in the max velocity. Against Atlanta, his curveball maxed out at 81.8 mph, barely over his average velocity. Against the Cards, pitch f/x had his fastest curveball at 85.6 mph. On top of that, his curve actually had less break (averaging 5.02 inches). Basically, against St. Louis, Gallardo was throwing a tighter, faster version of the curve that we haven’t really seen before this year. No wonder so many of his strikeouts were looking — he had the Cardinals confused for much of the afternoon.
The bottom line, though, was that his control was much better than it’s been for awhile. Of the 117 pitches pitch f/x had him throwing against the Cards, 69 were strikes. He did end his 8 innings with 4 walks, but for the most part, he did a better job of attacking and (actually hitting) the strikezone. The high pitch count may lead to some concerns about his next couple starts — he threw 111 in that CGSO against the Braves before things went awry — but if he can duplicate what he was doing in St. Louis, we could see a few more starts like this one. With the Brewers now just 4.5 games behind the Cardinals in the Central, that would be a huge help to what were already slim playoff odds.