Yovani Gallardo’s emergence as ace helps Brewers advance

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It was hardly a given that the Brewers should start Yovani Gallardo in Game 1 of their series against the Diamondbacks. The pitching stats of their top three starters were eerily similar:

Yovani Gallardo: 17-10, 3.52 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
Zack Greinke: 16-6, 3.83 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
Shaun Marcum: 13-7, 3.54 ERA, 1.16 WHIP

Gallardo, though, was Milwaukee’s Opening Day starter, and he was Ron Roenicke’s choice to match up against 21-game winner Ian Kennedy and potentially start two games against the Diamondbacks. And what a call it was. Gallardo went eight innings and allowed one run in the Game 1 victory, and he recovered from a bumpy start to limit Arizona to one run over six innings in Game 5, which Milwaukee won 3-2 in 10 innings.

Gallardo was something of a disappointment in previous years, in part because his terrific performance as a 21-year-old in 2007 set the bar so high. Gallardo missed most of 2008 following knee surgery, but he did make it back for the postseason to pitch against the Phillies. The Brewers lost that LDS, with Gallardo allowing three unearned runs over four innings in a Game 1 loss (he later pitched three scoreless innings in relief with the Brewers behind in Game 4).

Expectations were that Gallardo would challenge for Cy Young Award as soon as 2009 or 2010, but while he was generally effective, he failed to dominate either year. In 2009, he went 13-12 with a 3.73 ERA and a shockingly high total of 94 walks in 185 2/3 innings. In 2010, he improved to 14-7, but his ERA was 3.84 and his WHIP was a pedestrian 1.37.

Gallardo broke through with 17 wins this year, but he still didn’t put it all together.  He gave up 27 homers, which was tied for the fifth-highest total in the NL. His first-inning struggles were particularly frustrating; the league hit .288 with nine homers in 132 at-bats off him then, compared to .236 with 18 homers in 656 at-bats the rest of the time.

So, Gallardo still had some potential to fulfill… some upside left to attain. Fortunately for the Brewers, it looks like it’s happening now. He’ll be Milwaukee’s choice to start Games 3 & 7 in the NLCS, and that’s almost surely just how they want it.

Yadier Molina will not enter contract negotiations during the 2017 season

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Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Cardinals’ catcher Yadier Molina is still open to extension talks during the last week of spring training. Once Opening Day rolls around, however, Molina has preemptively nixed any contract negotiations until the end of the 2017 season, when he’s scheduled to hit free agency.

Molina wants to stay with the Cardinals, or so he’s telling reporters, but he’s also “not afraid” to test the free agent market this fall should a deal fail to materialize. Via Goold:

I would love to stay, but at the same time I’m not afraid to go to free agency. I’ve still got many years in the tank. Believe me. I feel great. I feel like a 20-year-old kid. I’m not afraid to go to free agency.

The 34-year-old backstop is entering his final year under contract, though Goold points out that he has a $15 million option for 2018 that he can choose to decline in the event that it’s exercised by the team. He’s reportedly searching for a figure closer to those made by other top catchers like Buster Posey and Russell Martin.

The 2017 season will mark Molina’s 14th year in the Cardinals’ organization, building on a career that has spanned seven All-Star campaigns, nine postseason runs and two World Series championships in St. Louis. He batted .307/.360/.427 with eight home runs and a .787 OPS for the club in 2016.

Colby Rasmus could start 2017 on the disabled list

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Colby Rasmus isn’t ready to take outfield reps just yet. According to Rays’ manager Kevin Cash, that’s a red flag, one that could potentially postpone Rasmus’ debut as the club’s designated hitter and outfielder in 2017. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Rasmus will need to prove he can play a defensive position before getting cleared for the active roster, something which the veteran outfielder has yet to do this spring.

Rasmus, 30, signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Rays following his two-year run with the Astros. He batted a meager .206/.286/.355 with 15 home runs and a .641 OPS in 2016 and was shut down in late September with an unspecified hip/groin issue. Entering the 2017 season, he’s expected to work his way back to a full-time role after undergoing surgery to repair his core muscle and left hip labrum last October.

The Rays also finalized their one-year, $1.2 million deal with catcher Derek Norris on Saturday and will need to clear room for him on the 40-man roster. Topkin speculates that the move could send Rasmus to the 60-day disabled list, though the outfielder is not projected to miss more than a couple weeks of the regular season.