Gallardo’s performance in Monday’s 14-3 rout of the Minnesota Twins gave the Mariners an optimistic glimpse of what could be if he stays on the roster.
MINNEAPOLIS — Yovani Gallardo isn’t just pitching to get wins for himself and the Mariners. He’s also pitching for his spot in the starting rotation.
It may seem impossible to believe that Seattle’s beat-up starting rotation is getting healthy enough that decision-makers could even think about removing an experienced pitcher from its 40-man roster or demoting him to the bullpen. But with Felix Hernandez expected to return to the rotation sometime on the upcoming homestand and Hisashi Iwakuma possibly returning soon after, the Mariners will eventually reach a point where they ask themselves do they move forward with Gallardo, who hasn’t been as productive as hoped or stay with Christian Bergman or Sam Gaviglio in the rotation until Drew Smyly’s return.
Gallardo’s performance in Monday’s 14-3 rout of the Minnesota Twins gave the Mariners (32-33) an optimistic glimpse of what could be if he stays. Given enough run support for two games, he had one of his better outings in over a month, pitching six innings and allowing three runs on seven hits with a walk and five strikeouts.
Mariners @ Minnesota, 5:10 p.m., ROOT Sports
Obviously, one start isn’t enough to make that decision. In his previous six starts, Gallardo posted a 1-3 record with an 8.31 ERA while opponents hit .303 with a .947 on-base plus slugging percentage. The team went 2-6 in those outings and Gallardo pitched into the sixth inning in three of them. But Monday’s results mattered.
“It’s important,” Servais said. “I think the last time he pitched, he pitched very well. He just had a bad stretch of four batters and it culminated in the three-run homer by (Miguel) Sano at our place. He stayed away from that for the most part.”
Servais has made one request to his plethora of starting pitchers this season: Just try to make it through five innings and keep the Mariners in the game. That hasn’t been simple for Gallardo. He’s allowed three or less runs in only seven of his 13 starts and is often hurt by one bad inning.
“I think the last two starts I was able to throw the ball the way I’m used to throwing it throughout my career,” he said. “It’s just being able to get deep into ballgames and make adjustments earlier in the game instead of everything falling apart in one inning. Keep moving forward, build off this start today and prepare for the next one.”
While most people point to money as the reason why Gallardo would remain — he is owed $11 million this season with the Orioles paying for $3 million of it — the bigger issue is taking an experienced big-leaguer off the roster. Are the Mariners in a position to do that? Do they trust the health of Hernandez and Iwakuma once they return or that of Smyly when he might return in mid-July? Do they believe the success of Bergman and Gaviglio will continue? Many fans would’ve dropped Gallardo a month ago, but the decision isn’t simple.
It seems more than a coincidence that Hernandez’s return after a third rehab start would likely put him on the same starting day as Gallardo’s turn. But if Gallardo can harness what he had for much of his start against the Twins, it will make the decision easier and be better for the Mariners overall.
“Throughout the year, I’ve been feeling great,” he said. “The stuff is there. The velocity is there. It’s the best I’ve felt in two or three years. It just shows that it’s more than just that. To feel the way I’ve felt and not get the results I wanted, it’s a bit frustrating.”
Initially, it looked like it might be another sub-par outing for Gallardo. Handed a 2-0 lead on Nelson Cruz’s two-run single in the top of the first, Gallardo gave both runs back three batters into his start. A leadoff double from Brian Dozier, a walk of Robbie Grossman, a wild pitch and a slicing double from Joe Mauer to left-center knotted the score at 2-2.
But instead of letting the inning implode, Gallardo found a little rhythm and command and retired the next three batters in order.
“I fell behind the first couple of hitters and left a pitch out over the plate to Mauer,” he said. “I was (then) able to slow everything down and focus on one pitch at a time. The guys swung the bats and took some pressure off.”
From there, Gallardo worked scoreless frames from the second through the fifth innings, working around a couple of base runners. In the sixth inning, he allowed an RBI single to Kennys Vargas, which was inches from being caught by Robinson Cano. But he ended the inning and his outing with a strikeout of Jason Castro.
Of course, an avalanche of run support made it easier. After being shut out Sunday, the Mariners banged out 19 hits and punished Twins starter Adalberto Mejia for nine runs on nine hits in the first four innings.
“Outstanding offensive night,” Servais said. “We got silenced at home in the Toronto series. Not totally surprised we bounced back tonight.”