How Gallardo is finding early success

Mar 31, 2014; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallardo (49) pitches against the Atlanta Braves in the first inning of an opening day baseball game at Miller Park. Image by Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

How Gallardo is finding early success

By Jaymes Langrehr. CREATED Apr 8, 2014

The Brewers are 4-2 through the first week of the season, and a lot of that has to do with the performance of the starting rotation.

Following a weekend sweep of the Boston Red Sox, Brewers' starters have allowed just seven earned runs over 38.1 combined innings, translating to a sparkling ERA of 1.64.

Yovani Gallardo has been a big part of the rotation's early success. After shutting out defending NL East champion Atlanta over six innings on Opening Day, Gallardo shut out the defending World Series champion Red Sox for 6.2 more innings on Sunday.

While his strikeout stuff hasn't quite been there - at least not yet, with only seven total strikeouts in his first two starts - he's been keeping opponents off the board.

Coming off of his worst season in the majors, there were a lot of questions about Gallardo heading into this season. Losing nearly two full miles-per-hour off his fastball over the past few seasons, he's not the same guy that struck out 200 batters four years in a row.

He's had to learn how to pitch without overpowering strikeout stuff, and at times that's led to the nibbling on the corners that's driven Brewers fans (and management) crazy.

So far this season, however, that hasn't been an issue. Gallardo didn't walk a single batter on Sunday, the first time in 25 starts he didn't issue a free pass: you have to go back to May 4 of last year to find a walk-less start from "Yo."

It's not just avoiding walks that's led to success for him so far this season, though. He's been more efficient with his pitches overall, and has avoided falling behind early in counts.

On Opening Day, Gallardo was able to pour in 57 of his 92 pitches for strikes, a 62% rate. He was also able to get ahead of 16 of the 24 batters he faced with first-pitch strikes.

On Sunday, he once again threw 62% of his pitches for strikes (65 of 105) and got first-pitch strikes against 17 of the 27 batters he faced.

Needless to say, it's harder to walk guys when you're jumping ahead 0-1 on two out of every three batters you face.

Sometimes pounding the strike zone when you don't have swing-and-miss stuff isn't the best idea, but Gallardo has been making it work to start this season by inducing weak contact and groundballs. In a lot of ways, he’s looked more like Kyle Lohse than Yovani Gallardo over these first two starts.

After getting six outs on the ground against Atlanta, 11 of the 17 outs he was able to get on balls allowed in play against the Red Sox came on the ground.

Boston hit the second-fewest ground balls of any Major League team last season, with only 41.6% of balls they put into play ending up on the ground. On Sunday, Gallardo forced them into grounders 62.5% of the time, and many of those weren't hit sharply.

That's an impressive outing, even if he only struck out three batters and couldn't finish the 7th inning.

It's only two starts, but it's hard not to be encouraged by the start of Gallardo's season. Not only is he doing things he needs to be doing to have success with diminished velocity, but he's doing them against some offenses that performed very well last season.

The scoreless streak obviously won't go on forever, but if Gallardo can continue to stay ahead of hitters and induce weak contact on the ground, he'll have that rebound year he and the Brewers were looking for.

Jaymes Langrehr (@JaymesL on Twitter) writes for Disciples of Uecker.