If the Milwaukee Brewers are to contend in a division that sent three teams to the 2013 postseason, they know they'll likely need a bounce-back season from Yovani Gallardo.
He couldn't be off to a much better start.
After not allowing a run in his first two outings, Gallardo might not have to face the reigning NL MVP as he looks to lead the Brewers to an eighth straight victory Saturday night against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates.
Gallardo (2-0, 0.00 ERA) had a career-worst 4.18 ERA last season and saw his strikeouts per nine innings drop from 9.00 in 2012 to 7.17, though his 2.41 ERA in his final eight starts made Milwaukee (8-2) optimistic he'd be much better in 2014.
So far, so good. The right-hander held Atlanta to four hits and two walks over six innings in a 2-0 opening day win, then limited Boston to seven hits without a free pass over 6 2-3 in Sunday's 4-0 victory.
"I think (Gallardo's strong start) is great," manager Ron Roenicke told the Brewers' official website. "Your confidence goes up, you're in the right place. His rhythm is really good right now, and hopefully he can maintain that."
Gallardo has struck out seven and gotten a swing and miss on only 8.8 percent of his pitches - his career average is 21.9 - so he's not taking anything for granted.
"You can't depend on two starts," he said. "You have to be consistent when you go out there every fifth day."
Gallardo has been consistent against the Pirates (6-4) throughout his career, going 11-4 with a 2.59 ERA. He held Pittsburgh to two runs over 14 innings in a pair of post-All-Star break starts last season.
This time, he may not have to deal with Andrew McCutchen. The Pirates' center fielder, who's hitting just .194 but has an NL-best 11 walks, left Friday's game with discomfort in his left ankle after lining out in the eighth inning.
'I had the trainer look at him and didn't think it was worth having him try to press on from there,' manager Clint Hurdle said.
Gallardo has had plenty of success against the man who follows McCutchen in Pittsburgh's order. Pedro Alvarez, who has homered five times in his last seven games, is 1 for 20 with nine strikeouts against Gallardo.
The Brewers used the long ball to their advantage Friday, getting a two-run homer from Aramis Ramirez in the fourth and a solo shot from Mark Reynolds in the fifth en route to a 4-2 victory.
Milwaukee has won eight of its first 10 games for the first time since opening 13-0 in 1987.
"It's always fun when you're winning," Reynolds said. "It takes care of a lot of things, but it's a marathon, not a sprint. You can't control what you can't control. You have to play tomorrow, you have to play the games (in the) now."
This is the Brewers' longest winning streak since a nine-game run last April, but extending it won't be easy if Edinson Volquez can pitch as well as he did in his Pirates starting debut. The right-hander, who also pitched two scoreless innings of relief April 3, held St. Louis to a run over 5 2-3 innings Sunday before Pittsburgh went on to win 2-1.
"He had an outstanding start," Hurdle told the team's official website. "Will he have that start every time? Probably not. But just to get to that point, where he knows he can do it again - just more positive reinforcement on what he has already bought into."
Volquez went 2-0 with a 2.19 ERA last season in a pair of starts against Milwaukee while with San Diego.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved