Yovani Gallardo's hot start a great sign for Brewers

By Matt Snyder | Baseball Writer

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He's off to an outstanding beginning to the 2014 season, but is Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo "back?"

Remember, Gallardo had the look of a perennial Cy Young contender a few years ago. At age 24, he was an All-Star. The following season he finished seventh in NL Cy Young voting by going 17-10 with a 3.52 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 207 strikeouts in 207 1/3 innings. He was good again in 2012 and a natural progression would have had him among the top 15 pitchers in the league. But he took a step backward last season.

The 2013 Gallardo went 12-10 with a 4.18 ERA (94 ERA+). His strikeout rate plummeted to 7.2 K/9 and he allowed hits at the highest rate of his career. His fastball velocity was slightly diminished and, possibly directly due to that fact, he relied on his heater less heavily.

This time around, Gallardo has spun 12 2/3 shutout innings against two offenses that have pretty good personnel in the Braves and Red Sox. So is he rounding into what we may have thought he would eventually become?

It's possible.

Gallardo's velocity is up a bit and he's throwing it a bit more than last season. His command has been outstanding, just as has his control, as he's only walked two hitters. Hitting his spots and staying in the zone has come with him also being effective in the zone, as hitters have managed a .229 average against him. He's been excellent at limiting the damage, as he's only allowed three doubles and no triples or homers -- good for an opposing slugging percentage of .292.

On the other end of the spectrum, Gallardo isn't missing as many bats. He's only struck out seven. The opposing batting average on balls in play is just .262 and he's left every single baserunner on base. Stuff like the BABIP tends to even itself out (his career mark is .295 and the league is generally around .300 on balls in play) over the long haul and, in turn, some of those baserunners will start scoring. When he's not missing bats, the chances are even greater that he'll need to heavily rely on his defense and more balls will find holes.

I do expect the strikeouts to rise and for Gallardo to pitch more like 2010-11 this season, but he's throwing like one of the top five pitchers in baseball right now. I don't expect that to continue. I won't be surprised if he's an All-Star, but I can't see him becoming a top-five finisher in the Cy Young unless he starts missing bats at a rate like he did earlier in his career (9.7 K/9 in 2010).

Basically, cautious optimism for the Brewers seems fine with Gallardo.

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