The Milwaukee Brewers has an offense that can contend in the NL Central next season (when healthy). The fate of the team, however, will rest in an unproven starting rotation outside of unquestioned ace Yovani Gallardo. While the Brewers figure out what exactly they have with the rest of their pitchers, the pressure will be on Gallardo to carry Milwaukee’s starting rotation in 2013.
Gallardo has been a solid contributor since joining the club back in 2007 as the most promising Brewers pitching prospect since Ben Sheets. So far, however, he hasn’t had to step up and be the leader. In 2007, the staff belonged to Sheets, CC Sabathia ran things in 2008, the overall struggles of the rotation overshadowed solid seasons from Gallardo in 2009 and 2010, and for the last two seasons, Gallardo has shared top billing with Zach Greinke.
In 2013, it will be Gallardo at the top all by himself. He comes into the season far and away Milwaukee’s most accomplished starter and will be counted on for a Cy Young caliber year. That pressure as the No. 1, though, isn’t going to phase Gallardo:
“It’s one of those tings that everyone wants at some point in their careers. Being here for a while now, I’ve seen Sheets, CC, Greinke, all of those guys, come in and out. Now, here I am. I might be the oldest one here.
“It just means a little more responsibility.”
The soon-to-be 27-year-old Gallardo isn’t quite the oldest on staff, but he is definitely the most experienced. The Brewers’ coaching staff decided to commit to younger, unproven pitchers to see what they could do after swinging and missing on free agent Ryan Dempster, who ended up with the Boston Red Sox. Figuring out how the other arms will react will add some intrigue to the early schedule for Milwaukee.
After Gallardo, every candidate for a starting job is equal parts promise and risk. The No. 2 spot will go to right-hander Marco Estrada after he posted a 3.64 ERA last season and had the third-best ratio of strikeouts to walks (4.93) in the National League. However, Estrada will turn 30 this summer and has only started 32 Major League games, 23 of which came last season.
After that comes lefty Chris Narveson, who has a longer track record, appearing in 95 games and starting 63, and earned double-digit wins in 2010 and 2011. However, he missed the final five months of 2012 after major shoulder surgery and it’s unclear just how well the 31-year-old will be able to bounce back.
The other candidates include highly touted prospects Wily Peralta and Mark Rogers, who showed some excellent things following late-season call-ups last fall. Peralta, considered the Brewers’ top prospect, has a history of command issues, however, and Rogers is known to have trouble staying healthy. It’s unclear whether either right-hander can hold up over an entire season of big league action without fading.
And speaking of fading, Milwaukee also has Mike Fiers in the mix. The right-hander was so good last May, June and July, Milwaukee thought they had an NL Rookie of the Year candidate on their hands. However, a late-season fade beginning in August led to a 7.09 ERA in September and has opened the door to questions about whether Fiers has been figured out by opposing hitters.
The Brewers also have other young arms to choose from, but the fact remains the same: the Brewers only known entity in their starting rotation is Yovani Gallardo. The quiet righty is in line to take the hill for his fourth straight Opening Day start and will be counted on to set the tone and be a leader for the rest of the staff, which for now remains more questions than answers.