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Third Opening Day start a charm for Gallardo

Third Opening Day start a charm for Gallardo

Third Opening Day start a charm for Gallardo
PHOENIX -- Twelve pitchers made Milwaukee's season-opening roster, but only three were drafted and developed in-house. One of them will be front and center on Friday afternoon against the Cardinals at 3:10 p.m. CT, making his third consecutive Opening Day start.

Another of those born-and-bred arms, left-hander Manny Parra, remembers the first time he saw Yovani Gallardo throw a baseball.

"I said, 'Dang,'" Parra said. "We just signed him. I didn't even know who he was. But that bullpen [session], it just looked so good. The timing of everything, the downhill plane. I was like, 'Man, that kid's out of high school?'"

That kid is all grown up now. Gallardo turned 26 last month and already has a trio of 30-start, sub-4.00 ERA and 200-strikeout Major League seasons to his credit. He is about to join some rare organizational air, becoming the fourth pitcher in Brewers history to start as many as three season openers.

Ben Sheets holds the club record with six Opening Day assignments, including four in a row from 2002-05. Jim Slaton started three in 1975, '76 and '80, and Teddy Higuera, like Gallardo a native of Mexico, started three in a row from 1986-88 before arm injuries derailed his career.

"It's a privilege to have that opportunity," Gallardo said, "especially three times in a row."

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It might have been his fourth, but former Brewers manager Ken Macha instead chose veteran Jeff Suppan for the assignment in 2009. Gallardo had started Game 1 of the National League Division Series the previous October, but missed most of that season with a knee injury and only had 21 regular-season Major League starts to his credit at the time.

Brewers fans know what happened next. Suppan surrendered a three-run triple in the first inning and six total runs in four innings of a 10-6 loss to the Giants. Gallardo worked into the seventh inning the next night and hit a three-run home run off Randy Johnson for a 4-2 win.

Gallardo remembers "thinking about it all nine," on that Opening Day, miffed about the snub.

"It makes you push harder to achieve that," Gallardo said. "It's big for a starting pitcher. I think you can ask any guy that's been in here before, it's a privilege."

The privilege was bestowed by Brewers manager Ron Roenicke, who faced a more difficult decision this year than last, when Zack Greinke's Spring Training basketball injury took him out of the running for Opening Day.

Brewers
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 2B Rickie Weeks
2 CF Carlos Gomez
3 LF Ryan Braun
4 3B Aramis Ramirez
5 RF Corey Hart
6 SS Alex Gonzalez
7 1B Mat Gamel
8 C Jonathan Lucroy
9 RHP Yovani Gallardo
Projected rotation
1 RHP Yovani Gallardo
2 RHP Zack Greinke
3 LHP Randy Wolf
4 RHP Shaun Marcum
5 LHP Chris Narveson
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart

Then, Gallardo was an easy call. This year, it was not. Roenicke considers the Opening Day assignment such an honor that he weighs it very seriously, considering both history and the eyeball test. Gallardo has the organizational history. Greinke won the eyeball test.

"If you looked at Spring Training this year, who would you start?" Roenicke asked.

The answer was Greinke.

"There would be no question," Roenicke said. "So, that's when it gets tough. I do want to go on what happened last year, but also, I see what I'm seeing this year in spring, and Zack has been unbelievable. So, it's a tough call.

"I don't mind pitching Zack second, and Zack doesn't mind. It's a nice thing to have when you go into your second game and you have Zack Greinke pitching."

Said Gallardo: "We could have any of our five guys pitching. That's how good they are."

Gallardo sits atop a rotation that returns intact from 2011, when the Brewers' six starting pitchers -- Gallardo, Greinke, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, Chris Narveson and swingman Marco Estrada -- ranked sixth of 30 Major League teams with a 3.78 ERA.

All are back, including Estrada, who will begin the season in the bullpen. Greinke and Marcum are in contract years, Wolf is in the final guaranteed year of a contract that includes a 2013 club option and Narveson will be arbitration-eligible this winter. All have extra incentive to have big years.

Gallardo has already been paid. He signed a five-year, $30.1 million deal in April 2010 that runs through '14 and includes a '15 club option.

Parra has seen this coming for some time. They first pitched together in 2006 at Class A Brevard County. Parra remembers Gallardo taking a pair of no-hitters into the ninth inning, including one in which Gallardo lost his bid when a fly ball sailed over right fielder Brendan Katin's head.

"We gave him a really hard time for that," Parra said. "There's a pride in paying off for the organization that drafted you.

"I was actually just thinking of that, randomly. I think it's the organization's pride when they can have guys they draft get to the big leagues, be an Opening Day starter and stick around for so many years. It shows the strength of the organization, as opposed to buying guys from other places. For me, I feel like a Brewer, deep down. I'm sure [Gallardo] does, too."

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.

{"content":["opening_day" ] }
{"content":["opening_day" ] }