Gallardo kicks off bid for 20 wins on Opening Day

Right-hander annointed to make fourth straight Opening Day start

Gallardo kicks off bid for 20 wins on Opening Day

PHOENIX -- Yovani Gallardo has been an All-Star, has started Game 1's in the postseason, has topped 200 innings the past three seasons and surpassed 200 strikeouts in the past four seasons.

Now he has a new goal in mind.

"For a starter, winning 20 games is a big goal," Gallardo said. "That's one of the things I'm looking to achieve."

Gallardo, set for his fourth consecutive Opening Day start when the Brewers host the Rockies on Monday at 1:10 p.m. CT at Miller Park, went on to mention other goals, including what would be the Brewers' first Cy Young Award since Rollie Fingers and Pete Vuckovich won in back-to-back seasons in 1981-82.

But the 20-win barrier is most tantalizing, Gallardo said.

"I've said this from Day 1 when I got to the big leagues, the goal is to keep getting better every year, whatever that might be," he said. "The rest will take care of itself if you go out there and perform and stay consistent throughout the year."

It's strange to hear a pitcher cite wins as a personal goal, considering that statistic is so often out of a starter's control. Take Marco Estrada, who will follow Gallardo on Tuesday against the Rockies. He pitched to a 3.76 ERA in 23 starts, yet had only five victories to show for it.

Still, the statistic is meaningful to Gallardo.

"If you go out there and win 20 games, you're going to have pretty good numbers," he said.

The Brewers have had three 20-game winners in 44 seasons as a franchise: Mike Caldwell (22 wins in 1978), Jim Colborn (20 wins in '73) and Teddy Higuera (20 wins in '86). Gallardo's 17 wins in 2011 tied for eighth best in club history, and he followed with 16 more victories in 2012.

Gallardo put up other solid numbers last season, including a 3.66 ERA, 25 quality starts and an eight-game winning streak from July 31-Sept. 18, a span of 11 starts that began immediately after the Brewers traded Zack Greinke to the Angels. Gallardo compiled a 2.75 ERA in that span.

Twenty wins is attainable, said Gallardo's admittedly biased catcher.

"I definitely think he's talented enough to do that," Jonathan Lucroy said. "Those few games he was short last year, it probably came down to one or two pitches, or one at-bat. If we can minimize that, if we can stay focused, I think he'll definitely be right there."

At the same time, the Brewers will look more than ever to Gallardo for leadership on a staff that had little veteran presence before the late-camp addition of free-agent right-hander Kyle Lohse. (No. 3 starter Wily Peralta and No. 5 Mike Fiers fill out the rotation.)

Gallardo is mostly a lead-by-example type of player, but manager Ron Roenicke said he has also been more vocal since emerging as the clear leader of the staff.

"We need him this year," Roenicke said. "We've lost our veteran pitchers, our starters, and we need 'Yo' to be that guy. Hopefully, he'll be a guy that these young guys look up to. Great work ethic, and that's going to be important."

Said Lucroy: "I guess being the No. 1 starter and what you would call the veteran on this pitching staff, I guess he's been thrust into that role whether he likes it or not. That's a burden he's going to have to take hold of."

It's hard for Gallardo to believe he's been in Milwaukee long enough to be that guy. He arrived in 2007 as a 21-year-old, and now is a six-year veteran and a father of two.

"I've been here a while, I guess," he said. "It's definitely different, but coming into Spring Training I was ready for it. It's nice to have guys trust you and believe you're going to help them out."

Gallardo has started each of the Brewers' past three season openers, including a 2010 game against Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies, but is still seeking his first Opening Day victory.

Last year against the Cardinals, he lasted only 3 2/3 innings and surrendered six earned runs on seven hits, including four home runs. The other two starts met the definition of "quality" -- a 2010 no-decision in Cincinnati and the 2010 loss to the Rockies.

Does each Opening Day get a bit calmer?

"No," he said with a chuckle. "They stay the same, that's for sure. It's Opening Day. We're all excited to get under way, the fans are excited. There's always that extra adrenaline from the first game. You just have to figure out a way to stay relaxed and go out and pitch a good game."

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.