Tagged: Yovani Gallardo

Milwaukee Brewers Roster Battles: 3 Most Intriguing Spring Position Battles

Spring training for the Milwaukee Brewers may be half way over, but the juiciest story-lines and most critical managerial decisions are yet to come.

Unlike recent years, positional battles are all the rage at Brewers camp 2012 in Maryvale, Arizona.  Many newly acquired players and young prospects are looking to make the opening-day roster or possibly even a spot in manager Ron Roenicke’s starting lineup.

Who are these players and what positions are they looking to wrap up with under three weeks until the start of the regular season?  Let’s take a quick look.

Center Field

Who’s Battling: Nyjer Morgan, Carlos Gomez, Norichika Aoki, Logan Schafer

The Brewers utilized a two-man rotation of Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez in center field for most of last season and, for the most part, it worked quite well.  Morgan’s left-handed bat started against right-handed starters and Gomez started whenever a southpaw took the mound.

This season, things could become even more diversified in the outfield.  With the signing of three-time Japanese batting champ Norichika Aoki, the Brewers have enough depth and solidarity off the bench to incorporate a three-man rotation in center field.  For what it’s worth, though, each has struggled this spring while 25-year-old prospect Logan Schafer has thrived.  A September call-up last season, Schafer could eventually find his way into the starting lineup later in the season if he continues to rake.

7th-Inning Reliever

Who’s Battling: RHP Kameron Loe, RHP Jose Veras

One of the underlying reasons for the Brewers’ collective success last season was their efficiency out of the bullpen, particularly in the seventh inning.  LaTroy Hawkins, Takashi Saito and Kameron Loe all bridged the gap from the middle-inning relievers to the Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford extremely well.

However, with both Hawkins and Saito out the door, someone will need to step up and assume the crucial seventh-inning role.  As it stands, both Loe and offseason trade acquisition Jose Veras are the preemptive favorites to accept the role.

Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel told me Veras “figures to be the seventh inning guy”, though both are veteran arms capable of taking on the role within Milwaukee’s bullpen. It wouldn’t surprise me if manager Ron Roenicke opts to use both equally throughout this season.

Opening-Day Starter

Who’s Battling: RHP Yovani Gallardo, RHP Zack Greinke

The Brewers came into spring training competition last year with a newly refurbished starting rotation and a big decision to go along with it: Would incumbent ace Yovani Gallardo take the mound on opening day or would Zack Greinke?  Gallardo ultimately took on the role and performed exceptionally throughout the regular season, though Greinke would return to Cy Young-form after the All-Star break (9-3, 2.53 ERA, 102 SO).  Greinke’s scintillating production then prompted widespread discussion over who should be the opening-day starter for the club in 2012.

And here we are.

Now under three weeks from the season kicking off, and that question has yet to be answered and it doesn’t look to be an easy decision for manager Ron Roenicke.  Greinke has been a strikeout machine so far this spring and Gallardo has also looked impressive.  It should be intriguing to see who takes the mound for the Brewers at Miller Park on opening day.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.


Predicting Milwaukee Brewers’ 2012 Opening Day Lineup Without Ryan Braun

Braun's absence will have a tremendous impact on Ron Roenicke's lineup in 2012

It’s been a long, difficult, often perplexing offseason for the Milwaukee Brewers and their fanbase.  But if recent indications prove valid, things may take another turn for the worse.

Last month, we learned from a report leaked by ESPN that Brewers left fielder and recently named 2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun had reportedly tested positive for either a performance enhancing drug and/or banned substance during Milwaukee’s historic playoff run last October.  Major League Baseball subsequently gave Braun a 50-game suspension for his actions, and Braun is currently in the appeal process.

Many fans remained optimistic regarding the future of their beloved left fielder, however, Braun’s appeal to the league doesn’t seem likely to be overturned, as Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently wrote.  Should Braun not be in Milwaukee’s lineup on opening day against the St. Louis Cardinals, there are dozens of potential directions manager Ron Roenicke might set his starting lineup.  Let’s take a look at the most logical approach to how it might look.

1. CF Carlos Gomez

Carlos Gomez is still very much in the prime of his career and with the opportunity to be the everyday starter in center-field to start next season, I expect him to be where he batted on opening day 2011: At the top of Ron Roenicke’s lineup.

Being one of the fastest center fielders in baseball as well as being one of the best bag-stealers (he has a career 78% stolen base percentage), Gomez clearly should be Milwaukee’s lead-off man to start next season.  Granted, he’ll need to cut down on his strikeouts and work on getting on base, but I still believe he’s the right man for the job.

2. LF Nyjer Morgan

Nyjer Morgan probably fits the bill to be the Brewers’ leadoff hitter better than anyone on the roster.  Based on what he did last year in the No.2 hole, though, he’ll probably stay put — at least for opening day.

In 429 total plate appearances, Morgan spent 352 of them batting second — exactly 82 percent. In that role, he batted .310 with two HR and 31 RBI, 46 runs and a .353 on-base percentage that finished as one of the best OBP in the National League.  Without having to split time in center-field with Carlos Gomez to start the season, GM Doug Melvin will be able to adequately judge whether or not Morgan is worth re-signing at season’s end.  If he can bat over .300 as he did in 2011, there’s no question he’s worth keeping around.

3. RF Corey Hart

I have to admit — Rickie Weeks originally came to mind as the best option to take Ryan Braun’s spot in the lineup, but after doing my research, I found Corey Hart is simply the better overall substitute.  Not only did Hart’s numbers from a season ago (26 HR, 80 RBI, .510 SLG, .226 ISO) trump Weeks’ (20 HR, 77 RBI, .468 SLG, .199 ISO) from a power standpoint, but their career statistics also marginally favor Hart.

Since entering the league in 2005, Hart has stockpiled 124 home runs, 425 RBI, a .487 slugging percentage and maintains a 19.6 K%.  Weeks, who also broke onto the scene in 2005, has 109 home runs, 314 RBI, a .435 slugging percentage and has struck out 22.6 percent of the time.  While the raw numbers don’t substantially favor Hart over Weeks, the subtle contrast coupled with how strong he finished his 2011 campaign should give Hart the nod.

4. 3B Aramis Ramirez

After agreeing to terms with Milwaukee to a three-year, $36 Million contract, Aramis Ramirez knew expectations would be high with Prince Fielder on his way out.  However, with Braun’s suspension now likely to be upheld, expectations have risen considerably.  The pressure on Ramirez to help carry the Brewers through the first 50 games next season is mounting quickly.  So, where does he best fit in Milwaukee’s lineup?

Ramirez, 33, has a great deal of experience hitting third and fourth, and his bat seems to be the best possible protection for Corey Hart to start the season.  He’ll probably hit behind Braun once his suspension is up, moreover.

5. 2B Rickie Weeks

If Rickie Weeks can stay healthy, for a full season, for the first in his career, there’s no doubt he’ll reach 35 home runs and there’s an outside chance he could hit 40.  He has a tremendous amount of power that has concealed itself over the past few seasons, and I’ve gone on record saying that if not for injury last season, he would have been the is the best offensive second baseman in baseball.

I originally had him batting third, but quickly found out Corey Hart would be better suited for the job.  That consequently puts Weeks fifth in Roenicke’s lineup and inherent protector of Aramis Ramirez to start next season.

6. 1B Mat Gamel

Mat Gamel has been an exceptional talent at the minor league level for a number of seasons, but there are some concerns over how well his game will translate as a full-time starter in the big leagues.  In 171 career at-bats, the 26-year-old holds true to a .222 BA, .309 on-base percentage and in 2009 (his only true taste of the majors) he struck out in 36.5 percent of his plate appearances.  He has a lot of upside and potential but he definitely has his work cut out for him at the start of next season.

That said, there isn’t yet a discernible spot for him in Roenicke’s opening-day lineup.  He could potentially be placed in a number of spots to start the season.  Given how evident his power was in triple-A last season, though, I can’t see him falling any lower than sixth in the order.

7. SS Alex Gonzalez

One of Melvin’s preeminent goals of the offseason was to upgrade at shortstop. He accomplished just that in signing Alex Gonzalez to a one-year, $4.25 Million deal with a $4 Million 2013 option.

During his 12-year career, Gonzelez has become one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, harboring a .981 fielding percentage and 5.938 zone rating last season at 33 years of age. His hustle in the field will manifest itself early next season.

Gonzalez’s pop at the plate has diminished, but he will still be held accountable to at least a .250/.270/.390 line next season. He has experience batting just about anywhere in a lineup, which will make Ron Roenicke’s job that much easier. For now, though, batting seventh seems to be the most logical spot for Gonzalez.

8. C Jonathan Lucroy

Jonathan Lucroy isn’t a superstar, and he probably never will be.  But that’s okay — he’s exactly what the Brewers need him to be: Dependable.

After splitting time Gregg Zaun in 2010, Lucroy inherited the starting role at the beginning of last season, and boy did he make the most of it.  In 430 at-bats, he batted .265 with 12 home runs, 59 RBI and boasted a .391 slugging percentage.

In the field, though, he was a superstar.  He committed just seven errors (.993 FPCT) despite having to deal with a staff that administered a league-high 70 wild pitches.  Lucroy spent 64 percent of his at-bats out of the eight-hole last season. Expect him to be in familiar scenery on opening day this season.

9. P Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo is just 25 years old and will enter his third consecutive season as Milwaukee’s No. 1 starter. When it’s all said and done, he’ll easily be the greatest pitcher in franchise history.

Last season, he went 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA while striking out 207 in 207.1 innings (33 GS). He led all Brewers starters in wins, ERA and strikeouts, and finished with a better K/9IP (8.99) than AL MVP Justin Verlander (8.96). Each year Gallardo continues to better every facet of his game and I suspect him to take the next step and lower his ERA to 3.20 or lower in 2012.

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist at Bleacher Report.  Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog.

Milwaukee Brewers: Predicting Their Opening Day Starting Lineup for 2012

The Milwaukee Brewers have answered nearly all of the question marks that faced them coming into their 2011-2012 offseason, and now wait in anticipation for spring training to commence roughly two months from now.  Let’s take a look at how their lineup might look on opening day 2012 against the St. Louis Cardinals.

1. Corey Hart, RF

Nearly half of Corey Hart’s plate appearances last season came as Milwaukee’s lead-off man but I suspect 100 percent of his at-bats to be at the top of Milwaukee’s order on opening day against the Cardinals.  Roenicke toyed with a number of players at lead-off before Hart returned to the lineup from an abdominal strain in late April but none definitively fit the role.

In 256 at-bats at the top of Milwaukee’s order, Hart posted a .301 BA, 15 HR, 36 RBI, 47 runs as well as a .366 on-base percentage, roughly comparable to Jose Reyes’ .388 from a season ago.  Many feel the Rickie Weeks is best suited here as he clearly has the most background at the top of Milwaukee’s order.  However, Aramis Ramirez will need adequate protection and Weeks’ game is slowly converting to power first, speed second.  Hart is the right man for the job.

2. Nyjer Morgan, CF

Nyjer Morgan may be best suited to be a lead-off type hitter, but there’s simply no ignoring what he accomplished out of the No.2 hole last season.

In 429 total plate appearances, Morgan spent 352 of them in batting second — exactly 82 percent.  In that role, he batted .310 with 2 HR and 31 RBI, 46 R and a .353 on-base percentage that finished as one of the best OBP in the National League.  With either Adam Wainwright or Chris Carpenter, both right-handed,  likely to take the mound for St. Louis, expect Morgan to get the nod over Carlos Gomez strictly because of Morgan’s left-handed bat.

3. Ryan Braun, LF

No matter what the final verdict is on Ryan Braun’s alleged PED-usage, GM Doug Melvin says he is going about his normal business as through he expects him to be in the starting lineup on opening day.  So, we’ll do the same.  Do you really need an explanation?

4. Aramis Ramirez, 3B

Aramis Ramirez has lingered in either the third or fourth spot for most of his career, and since the No.3 spot is already taken, it seems almost a foregone conclusion that he’ll bat cleanup next season.  Out of the cleanup spot last season with the Cubs, Ramirez batted .291 with 8 HR, 32 RBI and a .450 slugging percentage in a feeble Chicago lineup.

While we shouldn’t expect him to completely fill Fielder’s shoes next season, we should expect a solid middle-of-the-order bat that can protect Braun.  Anything short of a .275 BA, 25 HR and 85 RBI would be considered inadequate on Ramirez’s behalf.

5. Rickie Weeks, 2B

Gone are the days of Rickie Weeks being Milwaukee’s lead-off man.  At 29 years of age and a bevy of past injuries, he’s clearly entering the second phase of his professional career in that he’s much more of a power-first, speed-second type player.  Last season, Weeks amassed 20 home runs and 49 RBI with a .269/.350/.468 line despite missing a substantial chunk of his season due to a ankle injury.

With Prince Fielder gone and Ryan Braun still facing a 50-game suspension to start his season, Weeks will much more better suited to be batting either fourth or fifth in Milwaukee’s lineup.  He has the potential to hit 30 or possibly even 35 home runs next season and should be the one protecting Aramis Ramirez new season.

6. Mat Gamel, 1B

Incumbent 26-year-old prospect Mat Gamel has accomplished just about everything there is to accomplish in six minor-league seasons, but filling the shoes of Prince Fielder at first base won’t be a cakewalk by any means.

Last season in triple-A, Gamel managed 28 home runs and 90 RBI with a .310/.372/.540 line.  Impressive to say the least, but he’ll need to vindicate his career .222 BA and .309 OBP with the Brewers in a timely fashion.  Batting behind Rickie Weeks is most likely the best spot for him on opening day.  He’ll be a modest defensive upgrade from Fielder but don’t expect him to be a gold-glove caliber first baseman as he’s been known to be a bit lackadaisical from time to time.

7. Alex Gonzalez, SS

One of Melvin’s preeminent goals of this offseason was to upgrade at shortstop.  He accomplished just that in signing Alex Gonzalez to a one-year, $4.25 Million deal with a $4 Million 2013 option.

During his 12-year career, Gonzelez has become one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, harboring a .981 fielding percentage and 5.938 zone rating last season at 33 years of age.  His hustle in the field will manifest itself early next season, and will be a noticeable upgrade from Yunieksy Betancourt.

Gonzalez’s pop at the plate has diminished, but he will still be held accountable to at least a .250/.270/.390 line next season. He has experience batting just about anywhere in a lineup, which will make Roenicke’s job that much more easy.

8. Jonathon Lucroy, C

Jonathon Lucroy is by no means a superstar talent behind the plate nor in the batter’s box, but 2011 certified just how important he is to Roenicke’s ballclub.

Last season, Lucroy committed just seven errors on his way to a .993 fielding percentage — a commendable feat given Milwaukee’s league-high 70 wild pitches from a season ago.  He also posted a 7.87 range factor that ranked fifth-best among all MLB catchers.   At the plate, he managed a .265 average with 12 HR and 59 RBI, but garnered a 21.2 K%.  Improving his plate discipline and on-base percentage will be key moving forward.  Expect him to be in the No. 8 hole on opening day nonetheless.

9. Yovani Gallardo, P

Yovani Gallardo is just 25 years old and will enter his third consecutive season as Milwaukee’s No. 1 starter.  When it’s all said and done, he’ll probably be the greatest pitcher in franchise history.

Last season, he went 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA while striking out 207 in 207.1 innings (33 GS).  He led all Brewers starters in wins, ERA, and strikeouts and finished with a better K/9IP (8.99) than AL MVP Justin Verlander (8.96).  Each year Gallardo continues to better every facet of his game and I suspect him to take the next step and lower his ERA to 3.20 or lower in 2012.  There’s really no question as to who will take the mound for Milwaukee on opening day.

Updated Starting Lineup and 25-Man Roster Projection

Starting Lineup

1. RF Corey Hart

2. CF Nyjer Morgan

3. LF Ryan Braun

4. 3B Aramis Ramirez

5. 2B Rickie Weeks

6. 1B Mat Gamel

7. SS Alex Gonzalez

8. C Jonathon Lucroy

9. P Yovani Gallardo


C George Kottaras

CF Carlos Gomez

3B Taylor Green

OF Logan Schafer

Starting Rotation

RHP Yovani Gallardo

RHP Zack Greinke

RHP Shaun Marcum

LHP Randy Wolf

LHP Chris Narveson


RHP John Axford

RHP Francisco Rodriguez

RHP Kameron Loe

RHP Jose Veras

RHP Frankie De La Cruz

LHP Zack Braddock

LHP Mitch Stetter

RHP  Wily Peralta

Alec Dopp covers the Milwaukee Brewers as a featured columnist on Bleacher Report.  Follow him on Twitter @alecdopp and read his blog, Brewers Rumors.

5 Things We Learned in NLDS Victories at Miller Park

The Milwaukee Brewers are both literally and figuratively firing on all cylinders.

Taking game one of the 2011 NLDS by a 4-1 mark Saturday afternoon, Ron Roenicke and his suddenly hot-hitting crew took to Miller Park on Sunday afternoon with high expectations…possibly too high.  Milwaukee slugged their way towards a 9-4 victory over Kirk Gibson and company behind Zack Greinke — a man who has yet to lose at home this season.

Here’s five key observations to take away from games one and twp with the series now shifting to Arizona.

Everyone is Hitting

Seldom has Milwaukee put together such a valiant effort against top-notch pitching in consecutive games in 2011, but, then again, isn’t this the postseason?  In games one and two, everyone in Ron Roenicke’s lineup seemed to be contributing toward a winning cause, leading to Milwaukee’s weekend sweep of Arizona.

On Saturday, the Brewers dismantled Cy Young-candidate Ian Kennedy to the tune of four runs on eight hits in just 6.2 innings of work.  Sunday was much the same, as Milwaukee got to 24-year-old Daniel Hudson, putting up five runs on nine hits in 5.1 innings of work.  I would be sweating if I was Charlie Manuel right about now.

Ron Roenicke Is a Genius (as If We Didn’t Already Know That)

Unimpressed with Casey McGehee’s performance at the end of the season, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke elected to put veteran and utility-man extraordinaire Jerry Hairston in at the hot corner to start the series.

Needless to say, the move payed off handsomely.

In game one, Hairston managed a sacrifice fly to center field that would score Ryan Braun in the fourth inning, breaking what was then a magnificent pitcher’s duel.  He would also make a few key put-outs at third base during the game, as well.On Sunday afternoon, No. 15 worked his magic once more.  Going 3-for-4 with a run scored, Hairston was an essential piece to Milwaukee’s puzzle in taking both games at home.

It’s as if Roenicke can see into the future…

John Axford…’Nuff Said

Trevor Hoffman, you’ve done well.

In his first go-around as Milwaukee’s full-time closer, John Axford has performed above what anyone could have expected.  He hasn’t blown a save since last spring, and he’s only now getting recognition for it.

The former cellphone salesman and bartender set a franchiser record for saves in a season (46) in 2011, and quickly transitioned his regular-season success to the postseason.  On Saturday, Axford worked a one-two-three ninth inning including a strikeout against Arizona.  Sunday was no different, as Axford closed the door in the ninth inning with two emphatic punchouts to put the Brewers up 2-0 in this 2011 NLDS series.

Yovani Gallardo Looks Unstoppable

What Yovani Gallardo has been able to accomplish in just four complete seasons as a starter for the Brewers is nothing short of spectacular.  However, it may be what he has yet to achieve that will be most impressive.

In his first truly meaningful postseason start, the 25-year-old Gallardo went the distance, administering nine strikeouts and just four hits in eight innings of work while giving up just one run.  His outstanding performance would make John Axford’s job a whole lot more easy.  If he can keep this pace up, the Brewers should like their chances against either Philadelphia or St. Louis in the NLCS (assuming they make it that far).

Ryan Braun is Really, Really Good (and Is clearly NL MVP)

Just kidding.  We knew this after his first big-league game.

It’s hard not to be in complete awe of what Ryan Braun brings to each and every at-bat.  One of the few traditional five-tool players inMLB today, Milwaukee’s left fielder is showing what he can do on the brightest of stages.

Through both games of this NLDS series, Braun has gone 6-for-8 with four runs scored, a home run and three runs batted in.  Sorry, Matt Kemp.  The NL MVP resides in Milwaukee.

Follow Alec Dopp on Twitter: @alecdopp.

Padres host Crew as Bartlett puts RBI streak on line

by Jon Star, MLB.com

The D-backs found the right formula to cool off a hot Padres offense in San Diego’s final game of an eight-game road trip on Tuesday night. Now, the Padres head home, where any positive streak has been hard to come by.

San Diego welcomes the Brewers, who also were halted on Tuesday night, snapping their four-game winning streak. Both teams will look to start new streaks Wednesday, but victory for either team could be determined by the production of Jason Bartlett.

By recording a first-inning sacrifice fly on Tuesday, Bartlett tied a franchise record with an RBI in his ninth consecutive game, a feat shared by Sixto Lezcano (1982) and Steve Finley (1996). It is the longest streak since Jorge Cantu notched an RBI in 14 consecutive games spanning the 2009 and 2010 seasons with the Marlins.

Bartlett’s streak is part of a warming trend that has consumed much of the Padres’ lineup. Before Tuesday’s 6-1 loss to Arizona, the Padres scored seven or more runs in five consecutive games for only the third time in franchise history. It was an important turnaround for a club that ranked last in the National League in runs scored for much of the season.

Yet, while the offensive output is a welcome development, Padres manager Bud Black won’t just rely on the bats. He wants to see his team continue to put pressure on opposing pitchers and that means stealing bases. Entering Wednesday, the Padres lead the NL with 45 steals.

“[Last season] if we didn’t score, we pitched so well that the other team didn’t score, either, so we were still able to do some things that we wanted to do offensively, especially with our basestealers,” Black said.

A bigger concern for Black may be his club’s futility at home. Coming off a 4-4 road trip, the Padres return to PETCO Park, where they are 7-14. But Black doesn’t believe location should make a difference when it comes to producing.

“Through April, we weren’t swinging the bats the way we are swinging in May and that’s the bottom line,” Black said. “It didn’t matter where we were. We still have to play good baseball no matter where we play, regardless if it’s home or on the road.”

Yovani Gallardo (4-2, 4.88 ERA) will be tasked with continuing the Padres’ home woes. The right-hander has won each of his last two starts, limiting the opposition to two earned runs on six hits over 14 innings. If there was one area of concern for Gallardo, it is his walk total. Gallardo issued seven free passes during his last two starts, and battled through a 30-pitch second inning in his previous start against the Pirates.

“I lost my rhythm a little bit [in the long second inning] but I was able to get out of it with no runs on the board,” Gallardo said of his last start. “I gave our team a chance to score first, and that’s what happened.”

Nevertheless, the right-hander should feel a measure of comfort in PETCO Park. Gallardo tossed seven innings of one-run ball with 11 strikeouts in his lone start there on May 1, 2010. Overall, Gallardo is 1-1 with a 5.87 ERA against the Padres.

Brewers: Duo’s damage
May started out very quietly both for the Brewers and their biggest sluggers in Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. Milwaukee dropped five in a row to begin the month and seven of 10, before winning four of their last five games. Fielder and Braun have contributed to the turnaround. Since May 10, the pair has combined to go 16-for-52 with four home runs and 15 RBIs. The production comes after Fielder and Braun combined to go 7-for-64 with a solo home run (Fielder’s) from May 1-9. Despite their slow start to May, Braun and Fielder have combined for 65 RBIs, leading all National League tandems.

Padres: Maybin’s May
The Padres’ scoring has jumped over the last week and much of that can be attributed to Cameron Maybin’s surge during the month. The center fielder has recorded two four-hit games in the last week and is 12-for-25 (.480) in that span, including a multi-home run game on May 13. The stretch has boosted his batting average 51 points. He has hit safely in 12 of his last 16 games (20-for-60) and has crossed the plate 12 times in the span. One element that has disappeared from Maybin’s game this month is the stolen base. Maybin has not attempted to steal a base in May after recording six steals in eight attempts in April.

Worth noting:
The Padres have played 25 games decided by two runs or fewer. San Diego went 11-14 in those games, including a 5-7 record in one-run games

Greinke, Yovani, Marcum formidable 1-2-3

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

Gallardo an unlikely spark for reeling Brewers

by Tyler Lockman, FoxSportsWisconsin.com

Yovani Gallardo’s bid for only the second no-hitter in Milwaukee Brewers history may have fallen short Saturday in St. Louis, but it was just the lift the team needed amid a disastrous road trip.

Having lost seven straight games and batted .157 in that skid, the Brewers were floundering and no one seemed to have any answers. It appeared unlikely that a starting pitcher with an 8.89 ERA over his previous five starts would produce the needed relief.

Maybe it was the pants hitched at the knees or maybe it was a mental breakthrough, but whatever it was, Gallardo got the job done and just may have pulled the Brewers out of a painful malaise.

“It’s huge to get ‘Yo’ back on track,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said after the game. “It’s huge, obviously, [for] this team to get a win after those losses.”

One win does not erase what has so far been a 2-7 trip away from Miller Park, but putting an end to the weeklong misery was a start to turning things around for a team that departed on the three-city jaunt with a .500 record.

As Roenicke noted, it was just as important to get the team’s Opening Day starter out of a funk that had Brewers players, coaches and fans scratching their heads more and more every fifth day. While still using the quickened delivery implemented in his last start, Gallardo just tried to keep it simple Saturday.

“You almost have to go back to the basics,” Gallardo said. “Just see the glove and throw the ball there. It’s as simple as that.”

It helped that the 25-year-old right hander got a few highlight reel plays from the defense behind him, but it was ultimately Gallardo’s ability to manipulate his pitches that held a powerful Cardinals lineup to just one hit in eight innings.

“I was able to throw my off-speed [pitches] for strikes both in and out of the zone and get some weak balls hit,” Gallardo said.

The flailing Brewers offense did not exactly bust its slump in the 4-0 win, as only one run had been scored behind Gallardo. Three hits and a sacrifice fly supplied the insurance runs in the ninth inning, but six hits in the previous eight innings had to be an encouraging change from the one-hit showings seen in two of past three games.

The dominating win, Gallardo’s first against the Cardinals, is undoubtedly a boost to his confidence, but what it does for the team will be seen over the next few days. The Brewers wrap up the series with the Cardinals on Sunday before returning to Milwaukee for a three-game set with the Padres the next day.

While it was nice to enjoy the team’s first win in over a week and Gallardo’s flirtation with history, the next challenge quickly became the focus. Energetic center fielder Carlos Gomez was already talking about it just moments after stepping off the field.

“This was a great ball game,” Gomez said. “Tomorrow is a new game and we’ll try to win again.”