“His stuff is amazing,” said Roenicke. “He waited too long to bring his curveball into play. That’s why he struggled the first couple of innings. But I haven’t seen too many guys with that kind of stuff.”
Yovani Gallardo started on Opening Day for the Brewers, recording a decent but unimpressive start against the Cincinnati Reds. In that start, Gallardo threw six innings, allowing ten baserunners (seven hits, three walks) and striking out four. Some would say that he was lucky to escape only allowing two runs. Gallardo allowed eight of those ten baserunners in his first four innings. Roenicke noted that Gallardo didn’t bring his curveball in until later. Indeed, Gallardo threw his first of ten curveballs in the fifth inning. Seven of the ten went for strikes, including one swinging strike. The curveball was Gallardo’s only above-average pitch according to pitch-type linear weights, as well.
Gallardo took the advice of his manager last night, getting the curveball out early and often to retire Braves hitters through his complete-game shutout. Atlanta only recorded two hits and two walks in the nine innings, and even though Gallardo only struck out two batters, he induced a whopping 16 ground balls, in no small part thanks to the effectiveness of his curveball.
The curveball was a featured weapon for Gallardo last night, as he busted out the deuce 22 times in 111 pitches (20%). Eleven times the curveball dropped in for a strike, including three swinging strikes, a solid 13.6% rate. Although the curveball wasn’t quite as effective as Gallardo’s pinpoint fastball (4.0 runs better than average in 69 pitches), the curve did confound Atlanta’s hitters, with a linear weights value 0.9 runs better than average in only 22 pitches.
On the rare occasion that the Braves were able to put Gallardo’s curveball in play, they weren’t able to get any lift on it. The Braves put four curveballs in play, resulting in a ground out, a grounded double play, a lineout to center, and a line drive single to left. Between the raw effectiveness of the curveball and how it allows Gallardo to set up his other three pitches (fastball, change, and slider), the old Uncle Charlie was key to Gallardo’s success all the way through the game, as opposed to only two innings on opening day.
This season, Gallardo looks to extend his successes from last season, when he posted a 3.84 ERA and a fantastic 3.02 FIP. This use of the curveball isn’t particularly new for Gallardo, as he typically uses it 20% of the time. However, the differences between his first two starts of 2011 were stark, and the clear difference was the absence of the curveball in the first four innings against Cincinnati. For Gallardo to reach the goal of truly becoming an ace, he will have to continue to mix in the curveball and use his full repertoire against Major League hitters.