SARASOTA, FLA. — Yovani Gallardo refuses to put too much stock in his unsightly spring training numbers. Even after turning in one of the ugliest performances by an Orioles starting pitcher this spring in Saturday afternoon's Grapefruit League game, the veteran right-hander is confident the results will be there once the regular season begins.
Gallardo's 16.88 ERA in Grapefruit League play is alarming, but the veteran right-hander acknowledges he has never been a good spring training pitcher. Even last year, he posted a 10.13 ERA during spring training and still posted a 13-11 record with a 3.42 ERA for the Texas Rangers, recording his seventh straight season of at least 30 starts and 180 innings.
"Not only last year, you can look at every spring training I've had throughout my career … they've been bad," said Gallardo, who has a career 4.92 spring ERA. "It's a good thing they don't count for your career. … I think throughout my career, it's one of those things I really don't let it get to me. I know I'm preparing the way that I have to for that first regular-season game. We've got six months. You've for to prepare for six months. You've got to find every little thing that you can use to your advantage to keep the hitters off balance."
So maybe that noticeable drop in his fastball velocity and his lingering command issues are just products of Gallardo's process, that once the Orioles head north, he will morph into the reliable starting pitcher the Orioles hoped they were getting when they invested $22 million in him over the next two seasons.
On Saturday, however, Gallardo was roughed up by a Boston batting order that included just two projected Opening Day starters, allowing seven runs on eight hits while failing to get out of the fourth inning. Gallardo allowed 11 base runners – eight hits and three walks – in 3 2/3 innings.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter expressed his faith in Gallardo, saying that former Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told him this offseason to ignore Gallardo's rocky spring trainings. Gallardo was drafted by the Brewers in 2004 and spent his first eight major league seasons with Milwaukee.
"That's something Doug told me, 'Just close your eyes,'" Showalter said. "He said it's something you've just got to go through. Every day we pick up the box scores and guys are giving up seven, eight, nine runs. It's just unfortunately part of it. Experience tells you. I can't count on one hand veteran pitchers who had great springs and it carried over into the season, but it is what it is. We have a lot of confidence in him."
Gallardo has allowed 15 earned runs in eight Grapefruit League innings this spring. That doesn't include a start in a Single-A minor league game Monday, when he allowed nine base runners (six hits, three walks) in four innings. He had to pitch in that game because his scheduled Grapefruit League start on March 19 against the Tampa Bay Rays was rained out. So Saturday's start marked his first Grapefruit League appearance in 12 days.
"The other day in Port Charlotte got rained out, a day off and then pitch in a minor league game, it was a little crazy, but it shows the most important thing is the pitch count, to get the pitch count up, to get that pitch count off," Gallardo said. "I was able to talk to [pitching coach Dave Wallace] and get a day off and make sure I didn't missed that start. Otherwise, I would have been falling behind like I was earlier in the camp."
Gallardo signed six days into workouts for pitchers and catchers because he was tied to draft-pick compensation after declining the one-year qualifying offer. He will likely have just one more start before the regular season begins.
He has plenty to work out before then. He has struggled with his command, falling behind in the count often and issuing ill-timed walks, something that's compounded by what appears to be a continued velocity dip.
Less than half of his pitches were strikes Saturday (37 of 78) and his fastball sat in the 86-87 mph range on the Ed Smith Stadium radar gun, hitting 88 occasionally. His fastball averaged 90.5 mph last year during the regular season, though his velocity has dropped over the past four seasons. Showalter, however, said that Gallardo's velocity is actually "a tick or two better" than last year's spring training.
All three players he walked Saturday eventually scored, with two of reaching on leadoff walks. He allowed six of the eight batters he faced in Boston's five-run second inning reach base, including the first four of the frame. Gallardo needed 27 pitches to get out of the second, and he threw just 11 strikes.
"You've got probably 30 pitches that could be balls or strikes," Showalter said. "Got [his pitch count] up in the late 70s. I would have liked to get one more inning out of him, but they wouldn't cooperate."
For Gallardo, Saturday's start was not only about fastball command but also working on his secondary pitches – his curveball, changeup and, most importantly he said, his sinker.
"You want to go out there and obviously do well each and every time out, no matter if it's spring or during the season," Gallardo said. "But the most important thing is you're allowed to work on certain things, and sometimes when you're trying to work on them, the results aren't going to be there. For me, I think the most important thing was just commanding the fastball, throwing the fastball away and moving it around over the plate. I didn't get some of those pitches as strikes and it changes the whole at-bat. Obviously, that and leaving the ball up over the zone doesn't help, but I felt good."
Gallardo loaded the bases in the second after issuing two walks and a single, then allowed a two-run single to Mauricio Dubon. After getting a double play, he yielded an RBI single to Mookie Betts and then allowed a two-run homer to Jackie Bradley Jr. on a 3-0 pitch.
"I'm not worried about it," Gallardo said of his command issues. "You want to do well each and every time but you know, I'm trying different things. If you fall behind in the count, you might try to see if you can flip him the curveball or throw a changeup. It's a little bit different, just trying to add that and get it [ready] for the season. Sometimes it's not going to work out and you're going to get yourself in trouble. Like today, I was able to get that ground ball in the second inning and turn two. I gave up the base hit the other way to Betts. I thought it was a pretty good pitch, but sometimes you have to tip your hat to the hitters."