By Tom Haudricourt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel –
MILWAUKEE — When he took the mound Wednesday, right-hander Yovani Gallardo was the last man standing from the Milwaukee Brewers’ original 2012 starting rotation.
Left-hander Randy Wolf had been released earlier in the day. Chris Narveson went down early, replaced by Marco Estrada. Mike Fiers later took over when Estrada was injured, and Estrada returned to the rotation when Shaun Marcum went on the DL with an ailing elbow. Mark Rogers got his chance when Zack Greinke was traded.
Marcum is slated to return Saturday in Pittsburgh, but Gallardo has been the rock of the rotation in more ways than one. He won his fifth consecutive start with seven strong innings against the Chicago Cubs as the Brewers held on for a 3-2 victory at Miller Park and a sweep of the three-game series.
“It’s been tough for us this year, the starters,” said Gallardo, who boosted his record to 13-8. “First, we lost ‘Narvy.’ Then Shaun goes down and Greinke gets traded. Then, with ‘Wolfie’ today, it’s tough.
“Each one of those guys did a great job for us last year. That’s why we were able to achieve what we did. Yet again, we understand it. There’s really nothing we can do about it. But it’s tough being around those guys and the next thing you know everybody’s going in a different direction.”
Gallardo had another distraction to deal with as he prepared to face the Cubs. He returned home to Texas between starts to visit his ill mother, Eulalia, who had been hospitalized but now is back home. It did both mom and son good to see each other, but there was no way to completely block that out as he took the mound.
“It’s definitely not easy for anybody,” he said. “It’s in the back of your mind. You’ve got to be tough. You’ve got to find a way to get the job done no matter the situation.
“It was tough. I’m very thankful the club allowed me to go back home for a couple of days and see how things were going. That relaxed me a little bit in preparation for today. She’s doing a lot better now. That’s always good news.”
It didn’t help that the first batter of the game, David DeJesus, socked a home run. Gallardo quickly regrouped, however, striking out the next two hitters en route to a nine-strikeout performance. The only other run the Cubs tallied against him came in the seventh when Bryan LaHair led off with a homer.
“I think early in the game I struggled a little bit,” said Gallardo. “Too many deep counts; I was falling behind hitters. I was able to find a good rhythm after that, in the second and third inning. I made some pitches whenever I needed to.”
Gallardo’s teammates quickly retaliated, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first off lefty Travis Wood on doubles by Norichika Aoki, Ryan Braun and Corey Hart. But Wood settled in after that, and the only other damage the Brewers could muster came on Braun’s 34th homer of the season leading off the bottom of the sixth, his fifth home run of the home stand.
Braun would later triple, falling only a single shy of hitting for the cycle.
“He’s a good pitcher,” Braun said of Wood. “He has good command, both sides of the plate. Throws a good cutter, and it’s hard to differentiate whether it’s a fastball or a cutter until the last second. Throws changeups behind in the count.
“He really threw the ball well. We got a couple doubles in the first inning. Other than that, he pretty much shut us down the rest of the game.”
Gallardo passed the 3-2 lead to Jim Henderson, who worked around a one-out walk in the eighth. That left it to John Axford, back in the closer’s role after his midseason meltdown, who allowed a two-out single by Steve Clevenger but struck out the other three hitters with overpowering stuff.
“He’s looked great,” Braun said of Axford. “I think he’s really throwing the ball well the last couple of weeks. It’s encouraging to see the way he’s dealt with some adversity this year and he looks like he’s back to himself.
“His stuff looks better than ever. He’s throwing as hard as he ever has. It looks like he has really good command right now and I think that’s one of the biggest differences between now and the beginning of the year.”
The sweep of the Cubs completed a 5-2 home stand that left the Brewers with a 38-28 record at home. Now, it’s time to play better on the road, where they are a dismal 19-38.
“I’m so concerned with stringing together good ball games,” said manager Ron Roenicke. “I want to just worry about playing good ball. Where it ends up, it ends up.”