Brewers in good hands with Gallardo in opener

Brewers in good hands with Gallardo in opener

Brewers in good hands with Gallardo in opener
We may never know whether Zack Greinke or Yovani Gallardo would have been the Brewers' choice for Opening Day had Greinke never stepped on the basketball court.

Here's something Greinke does know: The Brewers appear to be in capable hands with Gallardo.

"I watched him throw a bullpen about two weeks ago and it was probably the best one I've ever seen in my life," Greinke said. "It was pretty amazing."

The best bullpen session he'd seen by Gallardo?

"No, by anyone," Greinke said. "And by a long shot. It was awesome."

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OK, it was a Spring Training, between-starts bullpen session on a back field at Maryvale Baseball Park and not a start under the bright lights of the regular season. But Greinke's point was that Gallardo appears well-equipped to handle Opening Day duties for the second consecutive season. The 25-year-old right-hander will take the mound at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park at 1:10 p.m. CT on Thursday against Reds right-hander Edinson Volquez.

Considering all of the medical maladies that struck Maryvale Baseball Park in Spring Training, the Brewers were thrilled simply to get Gallardo through in one piece. It came as a bonus that he was by far the team's best spring pitcher, going 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA in the Cactus League.

Then there was that one legendary between-starts bullpen session. Yes, it was just a bullpen, but it stood out enough that Greinke went to pitching coach Rick Kranitz to talk about it.

Greinke explained what makes a bullpen session "amazing."

"He was hitting all of his spots," he said, "but his fastball to one side of the plate was hitting the glove every time, and to the other side of the plate it was cutting and hitting the glove. Then he was throwing changeups that were sinking and down in the zone every time. Then he was throwing cutter-sliders that were right there, and curveballs. All five of those pitches were sharp. There weren't any where it was like, 'Oh, that was a bad pitch.' They came out great every time."

Has Greinke had bullpens like that?

"Yeah," he said, "but I've never seen one. You maybe see them from a guy who throws 88 [mph], but a guy who has a power fastball? You hardly ever see a guy who has perfect control and a power fastball."

"He's always nasty, but this was one of those days where he had everything working for him," said catcher Jonathan Lucroy, who was behind the plate that morning. "Ask Rick about it. He'll remember."

"Rick" is Rick Kranitz, the Brewers' new pitching coach.

"You hope that a guy walks away from every bullpen feeling good," Kranitz said. "But that doesn't always happen. I've had to stop guys before when they aren't going good. [Yovani] on that day, he was pretty good. There were some good comments."

Added Lucroy: "Too bad it was in a bullpen."

And there is the key -- bringing that stuff into the regular season. Gallardo is looking to build on a 2010 in which he went 14-7 with a 3.84 ERA, joined Teddy Higuera as the only pitchers in Brewers history to log 200 strikeouts in consecutive seasons, signed a five-year contract extension and made his first National League All-Star team.

The only blemish was a rib-cage strain he suffered in his final start before the All-Star break. That ailment kept Gallardo from pitching in the Midsummer Classic in Anaheim.

Otherwise, he was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing Brewers season.

"He had a lot of early success, both at the mound and at the plate," joked fellow starting pitcher and hitting hopeful Randy Wolf, "but, not that I was expecting him to be cocky, but I think I was surprised about how humble he is. He's quiet, he goes about his business and he works really hard. He's had success, but you can tell he wants to do better. He's very mature for 25."

Wolf joined the Brewers for 2010 and got to know Gallardo. Righty Shaun Marcum has gone through the same process this spring.

"I think it's the same for him as for me and Zack -- he's trying to learn us and we're trying to learn him," Marcum said. "Once we get to know each other, I bet he'll open up a little bit more. I'm looking forward to that."

Gallardo made his final spring tuneup on Saturday against the Mariners and looked very sharp. He scattered four hits, walked only one batter and notched a spring-high nine strikeouts.

He knew the next time he took the mound, it would be for real.

"It's a little bit of everything -- anxious, excitement, nervous a little bit," Gallardo said. "I know these next five days will go very quick."

He still gets nervous?

"I think everybody does. I mean, I do," he said. "It's not easy going up there, pitching in front of 40,000-45,000 fans. Not only that, you have a Major League hitter up there. It's the pregame. Once the game starts, you tend to forget it and focus on your game plan."

If Spring Training was any indication, Gallardo appears ready.

"He had a great spring," manager Ron Roenicke said.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brew Beat, and follow him on Twitter at @AdamMcCalvy. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.