Why it’s no surprise Yovani Gallardo will start on Opening Day


Following the initial reaction to the Milwaukee Brewers’ signing of free agent starting pitcher Matt Garza, the question became this—who would be the team’s ace entering the 2014 season?

On the surface, it appeared to be a two-man race between Garza and the incumbent, 35-year-old Kyle Lohse. After all, Garza had just become the Brewers’ most expensive free agent signing in franchise history, and Lohse was coming off a solid season in which he went 11-10 with a 3.35 ERA.

But low and behold, it will be Yovani Gallardo making his franchise record fifth consecutive start on Opening Day, as named by none other than manager Ron Roenicke.

Does this make Gallardo Milwaukee’s ace? Certainly not. In fact, there isn’t much debate that Gallardo is currently the No. 3 in the Brewers’ rotation. That would make the decision strange to start Gallardo on March 31 at Miller Park against the Atlanta Braves, right?

Not if you’re familiar with the ways of Ron Roenicke.

Quite frankly, you could see it coming from a mile away. If there is one trait that describes Roenicke to the tee, it’s that the fourth-year Milwaukee skipper is as stubborn as they come. That is especially true to when it comes to the players Roenicke trusts the most on the Brewers’ roster.

How often have we heard Roenicke provide the explanation of “he’s my guy” when backing his decision to roll with a certain player? Yes, it can be essential that a manager shows his support for a struggling shortstop that can’t break out of a slump or continue handing the ball to a pitcher every fifth day that can’t locate his pitches to show confidence, or at least the illusion of confidence, in said player. But far too often, “he’s my guy” is the only explanation. As far as this decision is concerned, here is what Roenicke had to say, in very Roenicke-like fashion (via Adam McCalvy of MLB.com).

"“You overthink these things, like we do every year, and they don’t work out the way you think they’re going to. I don’t want to say who’s better than whom, but say you have three guys that are really good or four guys that are really good, do you want to win every game you can as soon as you can, or do you back one of those guys off because he’s got more experience against, say, a Boston? He’s performed well against them. Those are the things we’re looking at. Then it’s, OK, who’s better when we go to Philly? It gets to the point like you’re overthinking things instead of maybe just winning the games as soon as you can. If those two are going the first two games, in the third game, should we just pitch the guy who has the best chance of winning that ballgame instead of worrying about what’s going happen in Boston? … “They’re all good teams. So it’s almost like, ‘Just line them up and we’ll go.”"

Let that sink in for a bit.

Roenicke went on to say that both Loshe and Garza were content with the decision, and that it was an honor to earn the distinction of Opening Day starter.

That it is, but it’s an honor that Gallardo didn’t earn after putting together the worst season of his big league career—both on and off the field—in 2013. It’s certainly not the end of the world that Gallardo will take the mound for the Brewers in just over two weeks. As a matter of fact, he has looked good this spring, allowing just one earned run in eight innings during Cactus League play.

But reverting back to Roenicke’s explanation, it’s hard to make much sense of it, and some would say it’s hypocritical.  He’s running around in circles trying to explain the decision, but really, we all know what he’s trying to say—Yovani is his guy.

That’s fine, Ron. He’s been there before and should know how to handle the pressure of an Opening Day by now. Except here’s the thing—in those four Opening Day starts, Gallardo is 0-2 with a 5.82 ERA.

The norm is to start your ace from Day 1 and allow your rotation to fall in line from there. Perhaps the exception would be to start a pitcher that has a really, really high success rate on Opening Day, but that’s not even the case when it comes to Gallardo. All it really does is put Roenicke in his comfort zone, even though his decision has a high chance of backfiring. This is a recurring theme in Roenicke’s managerial tactics, but maybe we’ll save that discussion for another time.

Gallardo has shown he can thrive when the burden of being an ace isn’t placed on his shoulders, so here’s to hoping he can settle in behind Garza and Lohse and have a bounce-back season from the start, even if that isn’t where he belongs.