MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers might prefer that Yovani Gallardo focus on Opening Day, but the rehabbing right-hander sounded serious this week about pitching for Mexico in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. Gallardo was listed on Mexico's preliminary roster for the Classic despite spending much of the winter strengthening his right knee, the subject of a major surgery last year that limited him to four regular-season starts plus two appearances in the postseason. Brewers officials have been particularly supportive of the Classic -- general manager Doug Melvin and assistant GM Gord Ash are both Canadian and have been active in that nation's baseball program -- but at the same time would have some reservations about Gallardo leaving the team's Spring Training camp to participate in high-level competition in early March. Gallardo said while he understands those concerns, the lure of pitching for his country is strong.
"I'm going to go in hoping to be able to pitch," he said. "Of course, it's going to depend on a lot of things, mainly how I feel and where I'm at with my knee. "I understand why people would [be concerned], since I had a serious injury the year before this tournament. The most important thing to me is that nothing bad happens, but at the same time, you kind of have to forget what happened in the past and look forward. It would be an honor to be able to participate in a tournament like that." Gallardo was one of 23 pitchers listed on Mexico's preliminary roster for the second installment of the Classic. Teams must whittle their rosters to 28 players -- including a mandatory 13 pitchers -- by Feb. 24. Mexico will play its first-round games in Mexico City from March 8-12. That pool also includes Mexico, Cuba, South Africa and Australia, and Mexico and Cuba will enter as the favorites to advance to second-round games in San Diego. Might Gallardo's inclusion on Mexico's preliminary roster have been ceremonial? "No idea," Ash said. "We haven't had any communication with him about it. Players are not required to have permission. ... [Teams have] no official say-so. There is the kind of subtle pressure you can apply to persuade a guy not to play, but that has never been our approach." Would the Brewers prefer that Gallardo remain at Maryvale Baseball Park for the duration of spring? "We're supportive of the World Baseball Classic," Ash said. "It's not a problem for us yet. He will be in our camp for 10 days or two weeks before he leaves, so there is going to be plenty of opportunity to get him properly prepared." Ash pointed out that Classic rules protect players from overuse. He also said that rules stipulate that certain players go through an additional level of medical screenings to receive disability insurance before competing in the Classic. Gallardo disputed the notion that his name was merely listed on the roster symbolically. "For me, it doesn't mean anything unless I play," he said. "Hopefully, everything goes well, the way it's supposed to go, and I do get to play."Mexican officials approached Gallardo before the end of the Brewers' 2008 season to gauge his interest in the Classic, and he enthusiastically said yes. Besides the thrill of competing for his country, the tournament would offer Gallardo and opportunity to work with former Brewers left-hander Teddy Higuera, one of Team Mexico's pitching coaches. Higuera is a hero to Gallardo, who was born in Michoacan, Mexico, but grew up in Texas. Higuera called Gallardo several times last season to check the progress of his rehabilitation. The 2008 season featured more rehab than Gallardo cared for. First, he tore cartilage in his left knee during an offseason bullpen session, underwent surgery in February and did not make his regular-season debut until April 20. Less than two weeks later, during a start against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, Gallardo tangled near first base with Chicago's Reed Johnson and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. He had surgery on May 13. Brewers officials said Gallardo would miss the rest of the season, but he worked his way back to the mound on Sept. 25 for a start against the Pirates. When the Brewers won the National League Wild Card, they tabbed Gallardo to start Game 1 of the NL Division Series against the Phillies. He was charged with three runs in four innings, but all were unearned because of an error charged to second baseman Rickie Weeks. Two of the runs scored when Chase Utley's double glanced off center fielder Mike Cameron's glove. Gallardo took the loss in that game, but viewed finishing the season on the mound instead of in the training room as a positive. His offseason workouts have focused on leg strength. "Everything feels great," Gallardo said. "I'm not having any problems at all. Everything is back to normal for me."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.