by Adam McClavy
There was Zack Greinke’s first Brewers start, then his first home start and his first Brewers win. Now comes another first for the home fans: Greinke and Yovani Gallardo pitching in the same series at Miller Park.
Gallardo will go first on Friday night against the Pirates, the Brewers’ favorite punching bags since 2007. Left-hander Chris Narveson is slated to pitch Saturday, and Greinke will finish the series on Sunday afternoon.
The bolstered staff has general manager Doug Melvin dealing with a new problem.
“This is the first time in 15 years as a GM that I’ve gone around town and now heard, ‘We need some hitting!'” said Melvin. “It’s the first time people haven’t been getting on me about our pitching.”
He’ll take it, considering where the Brewers have been.
Melvin made pitching, particularly starting pitching, a high priority after two seasons lost to pitching problems. After the sensational CC Sabathia carried the Brewers to the 2008 National League Wild Card and then departed via free agency along with longtime Brewer Ben Sheets, Milwaukee tied for last in the Majors with a 5.37 starters’ ERA in ’09. The Brewers invested just shy of $30 million in free agent Randy Wolf the following winter, but they improved only to 27th of the 30 teams in ’10, with a 4.65 starters’ ERA.
After a strong start in 2011 — Brewers starting pitchers led the NL in ERA through April 21, even while Greinke recovered on the disabled list from his cracked left rib — they are back in the bottom half of baseball. Including back-to-back tough starts for Shaun Marcum and Wolf this week, Milwaukee has fallen to 21st, with a 4.25 starters’ ERA.
If Gallardo’s no-hit bid on Saturday in St. Louis is a sign he’s back on track after a string of five subpar starts, that would help. So should Greinke’s arrival.
But some Brewers wonder if hopes are still running a bit too high.
“He was pretty good, but I still think people have sort of unrealistic expectations,” Ryan Braun said of Greinke’s Miller Park debut on Monday. “He’s not going to throw a no-hitter every time. He’s not going to be perfect.
“I think people expect him to do what CC did. That’s just not realistic.”
Greinke was sharp through his first four innings on Monday against the Padres, but he lost some zip on his fastball and command of all of his pitches in the fifth and the sixth. Those areas should improve as he builds arm strength after missing most of Spring Training. He’s thrown only 86 and 89 pitches in his two Brewers starts.
Greinke has already been compared often to Sabathia, who was otherworldly after joining the Brewers in a July 2008 trade. Both are former American League Cy Young Award winners, Sabathia in ’07 and Greinke in ’09, and joined a Brewers club with postseason aspirations.
But they’re not the same, Melvin argues.
“They’re two different stories,” Melvin said. “CC was July and in a pennant race. We had never won before.”
Greinke was over the winter, with the Brewers trying to climb back into contention.
“The similarities are that we were surprised we got them,” Melvin said. “But as far as the expectations go, the team is altogether different.
“It’s always hard to put the expectations on one pitcher. They’re 30-some games of 162. That’s not even 20 percent of your schedule.”
The Brewers are actually excited about 60-some starts, between Greinke and fellow newcomer Marcum. With Gallardo, a 2010 All-Star, that’s a relatively formidable 1-2-3, and all three pitchers are under contract at least through the end of 2012.
“With three starters like that who can go out and beat anybody in the league … we have some great weapons,” catcher Jonathan Lucroy said. “I consider [myself] to be pretty blessed to catch guys of this quality, for sure.”
Now, the challenge will be getting all phases of the team working together. The Brewers’ usually-potent offense is just coming out of a deep funk, the defense has been unsteady, the baserunning mistake-filled and the bullpen injury-struck.
That combination means the Brewers took a day off Thursday with a 16-21 record, in fifth place in the NL Central and five games behind first-place St. Louis.
“I wish we had been playing a bit better coming into [Greinke’s return],” Melvin said, “but we all know that if we get good pitching, we can stay in this thing.
“I understand the excitement. I’ve been around here, and I get why the fans are excited, because they’ve never seen [Greinke] pitch before. Our offseas